How Much for That Pint of Blood?

A reader named Jeff Stier wrote to inform us of the upcoming Angels in Waiting Third Annual Blood Drive in Memory of Joel Kirshner, for which Stier is the project director. Last year, the event was the largest mobile blood drive in the history of the New York Blood Center. For the past two years, the organizers have offered donors free “pint for a pint” coupons from Ben & Jerry’s. This year, they considered switching the gift to one-day passes to Manhattan’s high-end Reebok Sports Club. The gym agreed to donate 200 passes, valued at $35 each.

The plan hit a snag when Robert Purvis, vice president and executive director for New York Blood Services, stepped in with news of FDA regulations that prohibit compensation for blood donation. Stier summarizes :

[Purvis] explained that they are bound by FDA guidelines regulating “gifts” given to blood donors. He said, for instance, that any passes we hand out cannot be called “compensation” but rather something along the lines of “recognition.”

Specifically, the FDA prohibits any gifts to blood donors in excess of $25 in cumulative value, meaning that the gym passes were forbidden. So Stier came up with the following solution:

[I]nstead of giving the Reebok passes to “blood donors” –which is not allowed — we are going to give gym passes to the first 200 people who come to the event, regardless of whether they donate. They just have to register as future volunteers with Angels In Waiting.

Contrast the U.S. government’s view on the issue to that of China, where citizens are paid around $12 per blood donation. Private citizens are also free to offer incentives on their own, such as the online game operator who recently banned 120,000 cheaters from his site and refused to allow them back in unless they donated a pint of blood. Non-cheaters were also encouraged to donate with offers of free game accounts.

Given the popularity of online gaming in Chinese culture, which we’ve written about before, such an offer is no small incentive. As of March, 2007, more than 100 players had reportedly signed up to exchange blood for accounts.

Still, Chinese blood donation practices are hardly an exemplary model; in the 1990s, mass mismanagement of blood-collection centers led to 250,000 donors becoming accidentally infected with HIV, while reports indicate that, despite government intervention since then, harmful and careless practices continue in the outer provinces.


Not to mention anti-freeze in your toothpaste.


After thirty years as a blood donor, I have a fine collection of t-shirts.


There are two reasons why payment for blood donation is frowned upon. The first one, mostly relevant in developing countries, is that it encourages people to lie to donate more often. $12 is enough to encourage a poor person in the developing world to come back after a week and lie about their name.

Incentives also encourage people to lie about their health to donate, from "If I tell them about the acne antibiotics I won't get the ice cream" to"I won't get my gaming account back if I tell them I am seropositive." Forcing known cheaters to give blood to get their account back seems reckless.

Now, would giving the gym voucher even if you don't donate would encourage people to show up and chicken out at the last moment? Most important, how much ice cream would be needed to motivate someone to write a paper about that?


In addition to the Reebok pass available to Angels In Waiting volunteers (including donors), Ben and Jerry's is again sponsoring a "pint for a pint"of ice cream. So if you are in New York on July 16th, stop by!

Other cool stuff -- and special guests -- may also be on hand.


I miss the good ole days when you could donate a pint and use the money to go buy some booze or smack and get really messed up, especially with being a pint low.


I'm a consistent blood donor (who is unfortunately on travel restriction for going to Costa Rica, and not allowed to donate for other than experimental uses).

I can personally say that there's an added "oomph" to the value I alrady get out of donation (sense of civic duty, pride, etc.) when the local blood center (Stanford Blood Center) gives out movie passes and ice cream certificates to donors.

I give the ice cream certificate to my roommate, and save the movie ticket for going out with my girlfriend.

However, I do know that they work, even if at the margin. And I'm tired of the criticism about how incentivizing leads to bad donations. There are creative ways of dealing with that.

If you don't want lower income / bad health people donating, provide an incentive that's not worth much to that demographic, but is worth quite a bit to the desirable demographic.

In the case above, a gym membership is a perfect idea. Attractive to healthy professionals (like myself), but more or less worthless to a drug addicted homeless person. Yes, just like foodstamps, which can't be used to pay for alcohol in the supermarket, there could be a secondary market, but there are ways of dealing with that too, by tying the pass to a single person.

The FDA's approach of a blanket ban is a typical, ham-fisted government regulation, whose bluntness and imprecision throws out the baby with the bath water.

How about this? You want people to donate blood? Start paying their opportunity cost. It takes about an hour to donate whole blood? Better figure out a way to provide recompense at around the donor's hourly rate. (Perhaps somewhat less, because of the psychic value donors get).

How about a $100 tax deduction per donation? It becomes more compelling for people at higher marginal tax rates (make $80k a year in California? That's 28% federal, and 9% state--that's $37 you just made donating blood).

Non-profits all the time take old cars and provide tax deduction receipts. Why not $100 a pop for the eight times I donate a year? And that number can float depending on how bad the blood supply is.


Eric Kirkland

The following questions pop in my head:

Why can I get paid to donate plasma but not blood? The same health questions are involved. People make $200/mo donating plasma regularly.

The blood business appears to be profitable, at least from the outside. Most blood banks are private companies. Why is there not a concern that their own profit motive would lead them to make poor decisions about blood donors? Recently, our local bank has encouraged me to donate 2 pints at a time. I do not know if that is common.

I hadn't though much about direct compensation for blood, but I've long thought you should be able to take a tax deduction for the value of the blood, just like any other donation. A hospital charges about $250 for a pint of blood, plus installation.


I don't know much about the US health system but if a hospital either charges you or your insurance company for a blood transfusion then the simplest incentive other than cash seems to be that whoever you donate blood too will pay that cost if you need a transfusion later. It has the advantage of clearly being a fair trade - why should I pay for blood when I give it all the time? Regular donors could get receipts which could then be exchanged for lower insurance premiums. Of course that wouldn't help here in the UK where the biggest incentive is a long queue and awful coffee

Jeff Stier

I just donated blood during vacation in South Florida, and they gave me a $10 Publix supermarket gift card. With it, I bought a case of Corona Light ($11.99)

Hey, they said to drink extra fluids.

But seriously, as a veteran blood drive organizer,

I wonder whether, counter-intuitively, a $10 beer voucher would be a more effective incentive, than
a $10 supermarket card, or perhaps even $10 cash.


The CIBC sells their donated blood for around $360 as of 2006. I imagine it is much higher ,since their is a war in the middle east countries. Last evening ,29 jan 2008, HBO aired a show from the Baghdad hospital. So sad of all the injured and dead. But ,the camera happened to show a large supply of blood for the needs of people. The labels on these blood bags were printed in english. I have thought about Haliburton ,and what they charge the government ,taxpayers, for their daily flights and distribution of this critical needed blood .Since I cannot receive a tax deduction for my donations, until anyone can prove to me that these war hungry companies ,making huge profits ,are not gouging the taxpayers,I plan on stopping my regular 56 day donations . Thanks HBO for exposing this for viewers to observe.


Hopefully there's no lead paint in the blood.

Jameya Mcmullan

i will live to donation blood for money and i was wouder i dont live in new york what should i do or go ???

wayne hubbard

how much is a pint of blood going for? Hospitals are not giving it away free for operations.
So, How much is a pint of blood costing a patient in a hospital?


Hospitals charge for blood because they have to pay to get the blood tested, processed, and transfused. The blood goes through at least 27 tests required by the FDA and most companies do more tests to make sure the blood is safe. It takes a lot of people to set up blood drives, draw blood, test blood, etc. A lot of insurance companies don't cover blood in their plans, but most hospitals offer blood coverage for past donors if their family members need blood in the future.

As for incentives, a tax deduction would be awesome, but I think that the FDA would still consider that compsensation. We have to be very careful of what we actually give to donors because our hands are tied by the FDA. It would be nice to give donors tax deductions or other similar things, but anything that can be traded for money is a no-go.

The sad truth of the matter is that regardless of what big companies do to horde money from blood donors or what the FDA regulates thousands of people need blood everyday and without those donations it will definitely be a sad world. Just think about it, in the summer blood donors drop in number while the need for blood increases because there are more people on the road (arguable due to gas prices)...blood banks still have to find some way to pull donors in because without blood surgeries have to be cancelled, chemotherapy patients can't get the blood they need, and trauma victims have to WAIT. I know I don't want to be an accident victim rolled into a hospital with no O- blood. So despite incentives, government conspiracies, and a lack of enthusiasm donating blood is just one way we can give back to others who need that blood to live. One pint isn't a lot to a healthy person, but to an newborn infant and its mother...that one pint is the difference between a funeral and high school graduation.

Donate for the principle not the price.



why not get paid to donate blood its yours i feel if you want my blood you should pay me for after all im using it and you take blood from one person give it to another person and if something happens to the person you took blood from then you will have to take blood from someone else to give to that person so i think compensation is only right especially for rare blood types


Eric Kirkland,

Re: plasma vs blood.

When someone says they're going to "donate plasma" they are not going to a regular non-profit blood bank. "Plasma centers" can pay you because the plasma is not going to be used for human transfusion, it's sold for medical reasearch and biological products.


What a racket! Physicians are among the highest paid workers. Hospitals cannot pay blood donors, who are often much more in need of money.

The saddest part of the current system is that, since they refuse to pay a market price, there will never be enough blood supply to meet demand, and people will suffer and die. Organs are even worse. Many people needlessly suffer and die while waiting on lists for an organ donation.

They wouldn't need to pay much. College students, unemployed persons, and retirees will donate regularly for just a little spending money.

The government and medical industry need to get together and solve this problem, because it has been going on for far too long.


It seems as if everyone in the blood supply line makes money except for the person who is "giving" the blood.

You can "donate" blood to a system that makes money through every step of the process.

Please donate blood so that your "nonprofit hospital" can charge $250.00 a pint for it.

Sorry, we can't compensate you for donating blood, we need the money for the donation center and the hospitals nonprofit "profits".

If people would stop donating blood for a short period, they will find a way to lure you in through compensation.

I wouldn't trust anyone in the medical system, they all have the motive of "profit" in mind.

Maybe it should be illegal for "nonprofit" hospitals to charge a markup on drugs and services etc. How can you expect proper medical treatment when the hospitals make more money by doing more tests etc.

Doctor: "Oh, I am out of pens and notepads, I will have to prescribe something".



Plasma center worker

The above comment about plasma not being used for human transfusion is wrong. Plasma is used to treat people who have been diagnosed with hemophilia or immune deficiency. It is directly infused into the patient after it has been processed into medication for them. It is also used for burn victims, cancer patients, trauma victims and many other things.
Companies that give you compensation for plasma do so by reimbursing you for your time, not the product. The FDA does not like plasma centers to reimburse, but allows it as they know people would not donate plasma because of the time involved. While it takes only 5-15 minutes to donate blood, it takes about an hour to donate plasma plus wait time. In addition, the requirements to donate plasma are a little more stringent than blood and you have to pass a physical yearly along with having your protein levels tested every few months.
On another note, blood banks are required to test the blood before it can be distributed to hospitals. Hospitals, I'm sure, do not test the blood themselves unless you donate blood directly to the hospital. They do however buy it from the blood banks which is therefore why they charge for it. Even non-profit hospitals have to charge a mark up because unfortunately nurses and doctors don't pay them to work there...they have to pay the workers. Without marking up supplies and such, there would be no workers to work to help save you when you need to go to the hospital. Just because it is non-profit doesn't mean everyone volunteers their time.
Hope that informs some people about the blood and plasma industry.


FDA Regulatory Specialist

Plasma center worker is correct in saying that a paid plamsa donors' products may be used for hospital patients. However, these products must be clearly marked as non-volunteer donations. Most hospitals in the U.S. do not accept non-volunteer products due to the potential jeopardy in purity of products as mentioned in several of the posts.