The price of blood transfusion pouches has risen by 3% after the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime and this has adversely affected poor patients across the country. The pouches, priced earlier at Rs 900, cost Rs 1,200 under the new tax regime.

The Ministry of Finance has fixed a GST rate of 12% on most essential drugs, including blood transfusion pouches, against the earlier rate of 9%. The new tax slab has severely impacted poor patients.

Besides the blood and carrying pouch, the GST on HB (Haemoglobin) kit has been fixed at 18%; earlier it was 5.5%. GST on glass slide is 18%, earlier it was 14%, while Test Tab (for readings) is now charged at 18% against 14.5% earlier. GST at 12% is being charged on tracer tape, earlier it was 5.5%. 

Rohit Bhalla, president of the NCR-based non-profit Rotary Blood Bank, told The Sunday Guardian: “After the introduction of the new tax regime, blood related supplies were also brought under the ambit of GST. Post GST, rates for red blood cell pouches have increased from Rs 1,050 to Rs 1,350. The Ministry of Finance has also levied 12% GST on blood carrying bags; these were exempted under the previous tax regime.”

“After the implementation of GST, not only have the prices of blood transfusion pouches shot up, but the prices of almost all essential medicines have gone up, making the lives of the poor even more miserable. My organisation, the Rotary Blood Bank, provides free blood to poor patients in need,” Bhalla said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of July 2017, there are a total of 2,903 blood banks in the country or less than three blood banks for every 10 lakh people and most poor patients for blood transfusion rely on private blood banks. These private blood banks usually sell blood transfusion pouches at a higher price than that prescribed by rules.

Jayesh Mehra, a senior resident doctor at Max Super Specialty Hospital, told The Sunday Guardian: “GST has increased the cost of most medical equipment. The cost of dialysis has increased for kidney patients as hospitals are paying 12% tax on a dialysis machine, tubes, dialysis needles, catheter, plasma filter, dialysis fluid and blood transfusion pouches. The earlier tax slabs on these items were between 5-9%.”

“The fact is that around 210,000 patients across the country suffer from kidney-related problems annually and require transfusion of blood. The dialysis process becoming costlier is just an example of how hard patients have been affected due to higher tax rates. Another disease requiring blood is Thalassemia,” Mehra added. 

The National Blood Transfusion Council and the National AIDS Control Organisation are two apex bodies in the country responsible for all issues relating to the operation of blood banks.