Red Cross Raises Blood Prices to Hospitals
Facing $335 million in debt and claiming it has "underpriced blood for years," the American Red Cross this week announced "huge price increases" for blood to providers nationwide, the Boston Globe reports. The Red Cross, which collects and sells "more than half" of the nation's blood supply, has adopted new rules to prevent the supply from being tainted by mad cow disease, which has restricted the donor pool. Jacquelyn Frederick, senior vice president of biomedical services for the Red Cross, said the agency has raised blood prices 10% over the last five years, but costs for the Red Cross have increased by 27%. While the Red Cross has "adopted a national pricing structure," the organization is leaving it up to regional offices to negotiate prices with their hospitals. Partners HealthCare, a Boston-area company that runs Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital among others, has been paying $90 to $120 per unit for red blood cells, the "most commonly used" blood product, but will now likely pay $180 per unit. While patients "will not immediately feel the impact of the price increases" because neither they, nor their medical insurers, pay specifically for blood, the Globe reports that the increased prices "could lead hospitals to adopt stricter controls over which patients receive blood."
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Some doctors disagree with certain practices of the Red Cross that lead to higher blood costs, according to the Globe. They argue that the new rules to protect the blood from mad-cow disease are unnecessary, especially at a "time when the blood supply is already dangerously low." The doctors also question the Red Cross' practice of "leukocyte reduction" or filtering out the donor's white blood cells. The process, which adds $35 to the cost of one unit, is required in Canada and some European nations and is recommended by the FDA. But the Globe reports that "many doctors say widespread filtering is unnecessary, since most patients have no reaction to donors' white blood cells." The white blood cells can cause fevers in some patients and "serious reactions in the very ill" (Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 7/6).