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Fact-checking claim about the Red Cross and blood sold to hospitals
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The American Red Cross sells donated blood to hospitals on a “cost-recovery basis.”
The price a hospital pays for blood varies depending on location and other factors, but reports indicate prices have ranged from around $180 to $300 since 2000.
The cost a hospital incurs for giving a transfusion varies, as does the cost it charges patients. Several reports indicated hospitals charge patients thousands of dollars for a transfusion.
Regular blood donors probably don’t think twice when they receive texts or calls from the American Red Cross encouraging another donation, but they may raise their eyebrows at claims on social media that suggest the Red Cross is making a profit off those donations.
"Today I learned the Red Cross sells your donated blood to hospitals for $150 and then that hospital charges you thousands for a blood transfusion," read a screenshot of a tweet shared on Facebook. "I hate it here."
The April 18 post about the nonprofit was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The Red Cross sells donated blood to hospitals, but the fees the Red Cross charges hospitals are used to recover the costs related to the blood collection, said Emily Osment, a Red Cross spokesperson.
"The Red Cross charges hospitals and plasma manufacturers the costs associated with the recruitment and screening of potential donors, the collection of blood by trained staff, the processing and testing of each unit of blood in state-of-the-art laboratories and the labeling, storage and distribution of blood components," she said.
Osment did not confirm whether the Red Cross sells blood to hospitals for $150, as the social media posts claimed.
Dr. Claudia Cohn, the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies’ chief medical officer, said hospitals pay centers that collect blood, such as the Red Cross, based on private contracts.
In 2019, hospitals paid, on average, $215 per unit of red blood cells, according to data from the 2019 National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey, which asked community-based blood collection centers and hospitals about blood donors, donations and the use of donated blood.
Ge Bai, a Johns Hopkins University health policy and management and accounting professor, said the exact price a hospital pays the Red Cross for a unit of donated blood "depends on the price negotiated between a specific hospital and Red Cross."
"In order to stay financially sustainable, Red Cross cannot afford to lose money when selling blood to hospitals," she said.
Donated blood is rarely offered to hospitals for free, she said.
The price that blood collection centers charge hospitals also varies across cities and states. Labor costs and office space rents are higher on the coasts, for example, and those costs get passed on to the hospitals, Slate reported in 2006.
The Red Cross says the average red blood cell transfusion is about three units of blood.
Cohn said that for hospitals, the cost of a transfusion reflects the expenses of procuring the blood itself and the costs for the labor, equipment, laboratory tests and subspecialized medical services required to administer blood to patients. Bai said that blood storage and the overhead costs of the hospital also influence the cost of a blood transfusion.
Ultimately, Cohn said, for a routine blood transfusion a hospital could charge a patient approximately between $1,000 and $3,500, "depending on the specific medical needs of a patient."
Yale Global Health Review in 2016 reported that for some organ transplant recipients, the charge for blood transfusions can exceed $3,800. Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2017 estimated that the average charge to patients for its blood transfusion service was about $3,671.
These fees don’t necessarily mean that patients will pay thousands of dollars for a blood transfusion.
"For publicly insured patients, the price is statutorily determined and hospitals cannot change it," Bai said. "For privately insured patients, the price is negotiated between the hospital and the patient’s insurance plan."
For uninsured patients, George Washington University Hospital’s patient cost estimator indicated a patient would likely be charged about $1,269 for a blood transfusion — although they’re more likely to pay $508 out-of-pocket after a "self-pay" discount. A "self-pay" discount often refers to the price a patient without insurance is asked to pay for common outpatient procedures, and it can be lower than the price negotiated by insurance companies.
A Facebook post claimed that "the Red Cross sells your donated blood to hospitals for $150 and then that hospital charges you thousands for a blood transfusion."
The Red Cross did not confirm to PolitiFact whether it charges hospitals $150 for blood it has collected from donors. The nonprofit charges hospitals for the blood so that it can cover the collection costs. In 2019, hospitals paid blood collection centers about $215 per unit of red blood cells.
What hospitals charge patients for transfusions varies, but that figure can be in the thousands of dollars. What patients end up paying out of pocket can vary, depending on their health insurance plans and insurance status.
The post isn’t that far off in terms of dollar amounts, but needs clarification and context.
We rate the post Mostly True.
Facebook post, April 18, 2022
Email exchange with Emily Osment, American Red Cross spokesperson, April 22, 2022
Email interview with Dr. Claudia Cohn, the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies’ chief medical officer, April 27, 2022
Email interview with Ge Bai, a Johns Hopkins University health policy and management and accounting professor, April 25, 2022
Email interview with Seema Kacker, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, April 27, 2022
WUSA 9, "VERIFY: Is someone making money off of donated blood?" Oct. 14, 2021
Slate, "The Business of Blood," Sept. 11, 2006
PubMed.gov, "Blood transfusion costs: a multicenter study," May 1991
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "CPI Inflation Calculator," accessed April 21, 2022
American Red Cross, "Facts About Blood Needs," accessed April 21, 2022
Yale Global Health Review, "Blood Transfusion Costs," Dec. 21, 2016
ABC News, "Red Cross to Charge More for Blood," May 23, 2001
Dayton Daily News, "Area patients charged thousands for blood transfusions," April 11, 2012
Applied Health Economics and Health Policy, "Costs to hospitals of acquiring and processing blood in the US," January 2011
The Oklahoman, "What many donors don't know: Their blood is sold," July 5, 2014
The Johns Hopkins Hospital, "Estimated Average Charges for Common Procedures," Sept. 11, 2017
George Washington University Hospital Price Estimator, April 22, 2022
South Texas Blood & Tissue, "Why do you charge hospitals for blood I give for free?" July 20, 2020
The Journal of AABB Transfusion, "The costs of transfusion: economic evaluations in transfusion medicine, Part 1," April 8, 2013
Wiley Online Library, "Supplemental findings of the 2019 National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey," Aug. 1, 2021
Quartz, "Always ask about the self-pay price of medical visits," Feb. 18. 2022
KTVB7, "Cash vs. insurance: A little-known option could save you money on medical bills," Feb. 12, 2019
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Fact-checking claim about the Red Cross and blood sold to hospitals
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