MUMBAI : Private blood banks in the city have charged an excess processing fee to the tune of Rs 15 crore between 2014 and 2019, the State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC) has revealed in an RTI. In one of its most significant actions yet against overcharging, the blood regulatory body has now collected a substantial penalty of Rs 2.21 crore from 21 banks as the investigation concludes.
The initiative stemmed from an inspection carried out seven years ago by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and SBTC, which revealed that one in every three blood banks was violating the prescribed rates for processing of blood units. Although blood cannot be bought and sold in India, blood banks can charge a processing fee to cover the costs associated with collecting, testing, processing, and storing blood and blood products. However, many blood banks were found to increase their processing charges by 100% to 500% in violation of rates set by the National Blood Transfusion Council.
The exercise started with the SBTC auditing the records which were voluntarily shared by the blood banks. Discovering widespread instances of overcharging, the state came up with a formula to penalise the banks 20% of the amount they charged excessively. It also subsequently decided to rope in a professional CA firm to visit the banks and go through their records thoroughly. The physical visits led to the discovery of more discrepancies and the fine amount rose overall by nearly Rs 80lakh.
RTI data obtained by Chetan Kothari shows that PD Hinduja Hospital has been fined the highest at Rs 56 lakh, followed by Lilavati (Rs 41 lakh), Bombay Hospital (Rs 22.4lakh), Jaslok (Rs 17.7lakh), Kokilaben (Rs 14.7lakh), among others. Barring Hinduja, which has contested a part of the fine amount, most blood banks have cleared the fine, confirmed a SBTC official.
Surprisingly, two blood banks, Pallavi Blood Centre and Balasaheb Thackeray Blood Centre in Jogeshwari, which are run on private public partnership were also found flaunting the rate card. While Sion blood was fined Rs 6.31 lakh, Balasaheb Centre was imposed a penalty of Rs 2.7lakh.
An official said despite processing rates being laid down in their MOUs with the BMC, these banks still overcharged.
The most common offense found among blood banks was overcharging for blood grouping and cross-matching, with the official rates set at Rs 280 for automation and Rs 120 for semi-automation. However, banks were charging anywhere from Rs 300 to Rs 1,400, and hospitals often based charges on the patient’s room category.
Additionally, while a single donor platelet unit should cost Rs 11,000, inclusive of all tests, some banks charged separately for tests. Excessive charges were noted for platelets and cryoprecipitate, with some banks charging double or triple the fixed rate of Rs 400. One blood bank charged patients for the chemiluminescent test, even without the necessary machinery for it.