The Business of Blood Banks: paying a premium

The Business of Blood Banks: paying a premium

The National Blood Collection Report shows that blood banking is a multi-billion dollar industry, starting with a free donation.  The demand for blood products has hospitals paying a premium to blood centers and that means a hefty cost to you on the receiving end.

The reference laboratory at LifeShare Blood Centers is a grand central station of sorts in the blood banking world, where Don Humble sorts through rare blood samples for hard-to-match patients.  "We'll do a cross-match with that patient's sample and that unit to ensure that it's compatible and that the unit of red cells will survive once transfused to the patient," he said.

The blood product comes from a donor, like Cyndi Khoury, whose blood type can be used in some of the most vulnerable people.  "Once they told me what the platelets were for, especially being CMV negative, babies and frail people with immune systems that might be compromised, I made sure I took care of myself," she said.

Dana Dupin works to make sure the blood supply does not dry up, with a very time sensitive and in demand product.  "The blood platelets are good for five days and you see that they are constantly moving, ready to be shipped whenever a hospital needs them," she said.

The raw material is free.  Donors roll up their sleeves and graciously give a piece of themselves, but if you are on the receiving end of a blood donation, no doubt you will see a bill for it.  "We do have to pass on a processing fee and that pays for all of the testing and processing that we have to do to every single unit of blood," said Dupin.

Every unit of blood goes through a minimum of 12 safety tests.  That process takes money that this non-profit needs.  "Just looking around the lab," said Humble, "that instrument right there is $4,000 and that one next to it is $1,200.  We have three of those and five of those."

The bread and butter of the blood bank business comes from the processing fees charged to area hospitals.  "There are contracts with all of the hospitals that we service to supply them with whatever blood component products that they need for a given year," said Dupin.

The published rate that LifeShare charges a hospital for one unit or pint of red blood cells is $220.  The average red blood cell transfusion requires 3.5 pints of blood, totaling about $800 paid by a hospital to LifeShare.  "What a patient sees on their bill, that comes from the hospital itself and that could vary from hospital to hospital, depending on what the hospital has to do to that unit of blood before transfusing it to a patient," said Dupin.

A health policy report shows the hospital mark-up to be about $100 more to a recipient, totaling about $340 per pint of blood.

This liquid gold is expensive, but the pay-off is one without a price tag.  "You're actually making a difference in somebody's life," said Humble, "you're helping a physician to treat a patient to improve their welfare and it's a great feeling."

LifeShare offers a donor benefit plan that will reimburse donors, spouses and children by up to $500 in blood processing fees at any U.S. hospital.  To learn more about that and group benefit options for your company, click here.

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