It was major news yesterday when the public learned that UnitedHealth Group Incorporated had awarded an exclusive, 10-year national contract for laboratory testing services to Laboratory Corporation of America. UnitedHealth is the nation’s second largest health insurance company, with approximately 26 million beneficiaries. LabCorp says it should see an additional $3 billion in revenue during the 10-year term of its pact with UnitedHealth.

This new contract takes effect on January 1, 2007. After that date, Quest Diagnostics Incorporated ceases to be a contract provider of laboratory services to UnitedHealth beneficiaries, with a few exceptions. Quest Diagnostics acknowledges that its UnitedHealth book of business represents 7% of total revenues, or about $385 million per year. That business is now at risk, for a number of reasons.

What is big news for LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics is likely to be a “ho hum” for most other laboratories. That’s because they are already excluded from lab testing contracts with UnitedHealth. What may be of more immediate impact to hospital lab outreach programs and independent laboratory companies is the fact that LabCorp will be developing contract networks for UnitedHealth in selected regions around the United States. Depending on the prices and terms of such contract networks, local labs may find it advantageous to participate to gain access to UnitedHealth beneficiaries.

As to the two blood brothers, Dark Daily predicts the capture of UnitedHealth’s business by LabCorp will intensify competition between the two billion-dollar behemoths. Quest Diagnostics will not lie down and cede the UnitedHealth business to LabCorp. Nor will LabCorp be anything but aggressive about exploiting this opportunity. From this perspective, news that LabCorp has been granted an exclusive, 10-year lab testing services contract with UnitedHealth Group is just the first round. Stay tuned, because the battle is about to get nasty. Check out coming issues of The Dark Report for additional intelligence about this tectonic shift in national lab contracts.