Plasma centers exploit poor people for profit

plasma-donation-centerPlasma donation centers may seem like an innocent way to earn extra income while contributing to a positive cause. Plasma is used to create lifesaving medications and treatments for patients with hemophilia and other disorders.

But a deeper look shows that pharmaceutical manufacturers are exploiting the poor under the guise of humanitarianism.

A prospective donor’s first visit to a plasma center takes from three to four hours, including a brief medical examination and a few tests. A donor must weigh over 110 pounds and be at least 18 years old. The donor must also go through a brief vitals’ check and survey each time they return to donate.

The donor must answer certain questions to ensure that the donation center is receiving a pure product. This survey includes questions about sexual history, living situations, travel and drug use. Donors’ samples are randomly tested for certain drugs such as opiates, cocaine and methamphetamines. A positive drug screen can result in a donor being “deferred” for a full year.

The centers pay compensation for the donor’s time, not for the plasma itself, although most centers claim pay is based on many factors including the donor’s weight. Compensation is inconsistent.

An individual may be paid anywhere from $15 to $80 for their donation, which can take from one to three hours. If a donor is being paid for their “time,” that equates to a wage of $5 to $80 per hour. This varies even more since all payments are placed on a prepaid card that is subject to fees.

For donors to CSL Plasma Inc., each transaction made on the card is subject to a 25-cent fee and more for each ATM withdrawal. Depending on the company, donors are potentially responsible for claiming this income on their taxes. Bonuses are given (usually on a monthly schedule) the more a person donates and hefty incentives are given for first-time donors.

At CSL Plasma, a new donor can earn $50 per donation for their first month. This drastically reduces to $15 per donation after the first month — hence the bonus incentives to donate more frequently.

Donors are also encouraged to rate workers at the donation center. Points are given out and can be redeemed for passes to line jump or can be saved up and used towards a $5 bonus.

A donor must live within a certain distance from the center if they wish to donate. Not much information is given as to how the “donor radius” is determined: one must contact a center to learn if they live in an approved zip code.

Shrewdly placed donation centers

A quick look indicates that the donation centers are strategically — and shrewdly — placed in poor minority communities. First of all, poor people are more likely to put up with waiting in a three-hour line and being hooked up to an IV for an hour for only $15. The lines sometimes get long and donors will start to complain — but they stay because they need the money.

Also, poor people are less likely to sue should a medical issue arise as a result of plasma donating. Sure, donors sign a consent form. But if there are any loopholes that would hold the donation center accountable in the event of a complication, it is unlikely a poor donor would be financially able to pursue the matter.

Fifteen dollars for three hours of work seems like an attractive option to the alternative: nothing. And yes, the whole donation process is technically voluntary. Plus donors get to help save lives in the process.

But the donation centers don’t have anyone’s best interest at heart. A plasma donation is worth roughly $200 straight out of your arm; $500 after it undergoes a treatment process. This makes plasma donation an extremely profitable industry that saw $11 billion in sales. (

Since the research and production companies buying the plasma typically also own the donation centers, they are able to control both supply and demand. CSL Behring, for example, a biotech research and manufacturing company, owns CSL Plasma.

To the unemployed or a worker struggling to make ends meet, donating plasma is an attractive — and legal — alternative to fill an income gap. These “donors” are actually workers as they are being compensated for their time. They are unorganized workers without the legal rights that go along with a typical workplace relationship.

Don’t let the humanitarian disguise fool you, these are just pharmaceutical companies seeking to exploit the poor for profit. They’re just really good at hiding it.

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