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Blood network opens new vein Competition for blood donors could help hospitals and patients

Competition is coming to Western New York's blood donor network, and it looks to be a fine thing. Upstate New York Transplant Services has announced plans to start an independent blood bank in this region, saying it will sell blood to Buffalo-area hospitals for almost one-third less than the American Red Cross. Over five years, the savings could reach $20 million, according to Mark Simon, chief executive officer of Transplant Services.
Given all the problems associated with the spiraling costs of health care, and the role that blood plays in hospital expenses -- it's the second-highest operating cost -- the prospect of a 30 percent price cut is an attractive prospect.

Even the Red Cross thinks this isn't a bad thing. Nationally, only 5 percent of potential donors actually give blood and in Western New York, the figure is lower. Hospitals in this region use 10,000 more units of blood per year than is collected. Not only is there room for competition, its appearance could benefit those who most need it: hospital patients who require transfusions.
To some significant extent, the two operations have different agendas. Because of its national platform, the Red Cross is able to provide blood far from where it is collected. That stature allowed the Red Cross to bring blood supplies to Western New York in mid-October, when the surprise blizzard shut down donor clinics.
In contrast, Upstate New York Transplant Services is pitching itself as a regional blood bank, a status it says will help it to reduce the costs of blood to area hospitals.
The new service, which hopes to begin collections around Erie and Niagara counties in the first half of 2007, will be bound by the standards of the American Association of Blood Banks. Competition is almost always good, and if the exceptions to that rule sometimes include the health care industry, blood collection may be the exception to the exception. This looks like a healthy development.

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