Blood and Money


Despite congressional promises last October to beef up the safety of America’s precious blood supply, blood bank officials now accuse Congress and the Clinton administration of hampering their ability to protect the public from infectious diseases acquired through transfusions.

As blood bank officials testified at a California Senate hearing earlier this month in Los Angeles, problems are especially acute in California, where blood banks are increasingly unable to meet the demand. The estimated need this year was 1.1 million pints, but blood banks collected fewer than 900,000 pints.

At the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing, leaders of the 12 nonprofit banks that perform most of the blood collections in California said the problem boiled down to lack of financing. The blood banks are likely to lose $17 million in funding this year largely because the federal government has failed to increase Medicare payments to compensate for new blood tests and increased blood demand.


If there is a hopeful note, it’s that the public is not in any immediate danger; hospitals have been able so far to obtain out-of-state blood supplies from the Red Cross. But present trends, like the recent decisions of some cash-strapped blood centers to eliminate mobile collection vans, show that the blood supply problem is not likely to be resolved without government intervention.

That’s why it’s imperative that federal officials start embracing solid solutions. For starters, President Clinton should call on the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) to start paying for new blood safety measures required by the Food and Drug Administration.

The HCFA says increasing Medicare payments to the blood banks “is not in our payment methodology.” But in fact, the bureaucratic gobbledygook notwithstanding, the agency does have authority to increase annual “lump sum reimbursements.” Congress should start committing a solid stream of funds to back up its high-minded rhetoric about public health.