BLOOD BANKS: Increased Costs and Decreased Donations
California blood banks are in "desperate need" of help as they struggle to keep up with an increase in demand and rising costs. Issues including an aging population and the growing trend of tattoos and body piercings have reduced the donor pool, forcing blood banks to spend more money on recruitment. But more devastating is the rise in federally ordered tests for disease. In 1985, the nation's blood supply was only tested for syphilis and hepatitis B; since then, the number of tests has risen to nine. Proposals for additional screenings for hepatitis C and HIV could raise the price of testing each unit of blood by $30, and currently blood banks only receive $100 government reimbursement for every $110 in expenses for testing blood. While they "welcome improvements in safety," blood banks "shudder at the thought of shouldering the costs." Another cause of blood banks' woes is the fact that while one arm of the government fixes testing requirements, another -- HCFA -- establishes reimbursements. Currently, the American Association of Blood Banks is lobbying Congress to create a separate payment system. Representatives from the Blood Centers of CA are scheduled to meet with the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee next week. In an attempt to salvage their agencies, blood banks have turned to forging "unusual alliances" for group purchasing and have slashed costs by using outside contractors for testing. Karen Shoos Lipton, chief executive of the American Association of Blood Banks, said, "Blood banks have pared down as much overhead as possible. Now they're starting to cut into bone." Advocates worry that blood banks will continue to slide deeper into debt and fail to recruit potential donors due to marketing costs constraints. Dr. Nora Hirschler, chief executive and medical director of the Blood Centers of the Pacific, noted, "We want to offer our patients the best products. But we need to recover our costs to continue to making the best product, a safe blood supply" (Kwan, San Jose Mercury News, 12/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.