Beckman Coulter, Olympus, LabCorp, Anthem, WellPoint, Medtox, University of Toronto


THERE WAS A BIG JUMP in fourth quarter revenue at Beckman Coulter Inc., of Brea, California, which increased by 22% over the previous year, to $989.6 million.

This number included $120.2 million in revenue from the recent Olympus Diagnostics acquisition. Beckman Coulter spent $800 million in August 2009 to purchase Olympus Corporation’s diagnostics systems business. For the quarter, Beckman reported a profit of $64.2 million, down from $75.1 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

For the year, total revenue at Beckman Coulter was $3.26 billion, an increase of 5.2% over 2008 results of $3.09 billion. The company said that, when the revenue from the Olympus acquisition was excluded, Beckman Coulter’s total revenue for the year declined about 1%.


THERE MAY BE QUITE A JOB TUSSLE for laboratory billing personnel in Greensboro, North Carolina, home to Spectrum Laboratory Network. That’s because Laboratory Corporation of America just announced plans to expand its billing center in Greensboro.

Last week, The News & Record of Greensboro reported that LabCorp was planning to consolidate billing operations and would add 350 new jobs in Greensboro. By late spring or early summer, LabCorp says it will move into an existing building in Greensboro and invest almost $4 million over the next three years.

The state of North Carolina offered LabCorp about $900,000 in incentives to move to Greensboro, in Guilford County. CEO David King told the newspaper that Guilford County has a larger job pool than what is available in nearby Burlington, NC, where LabCorp maintains its corporate headquarters.

However, because Spectrum Laboratory Network is already established in Greensboro, there is likely to be intense recruiting between the two laboratory companies for the pool of qualified personnel, particularly if they have extensive experience in laboratory billing, coding, and collections.


LAST WEEK’S NEWS that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, California’s largest for-profit insurer, would raise premiums by as much as 39% for some customers with individual policies, set off a firestorm of criticism.

The Obama White House weighed in, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius writing a letter to the Anthem president saying that Anthem needed to justify the premium increase.

In a written response to the administration, WellPoint, Inc., the owner of Anthem, stated that the premium increases are based on the greater cost of medical services, along with an exodus of healthy consumers from these insurance plans. Further, WellPoint noted that only 25% of consumers with individual plans would see a rate increase of 39%. The average would be a 25% increase, with some customers actually getting a premium reduction.

In response to these actions, Anthem now faces two government hearings. A panel of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has scheduled a hearing February 24. The California Assembly’s health committee will convene a hearing one day earlier, on February 23.

Pathologists and laboratory administrators should take these collective events as a sign of a shift in the healthcare marketplace. The actions of for-profit insurers will be scrutinized with more intensity than ever before. Any sizeable increase in the cost of health insurance premiums by private payers may become a target for media coverage and government hearings and investigations.


AS EXPECTED, THE ECONOMIC RECESSION was responsible for a decline of 9.9% in drugs-of-abuse test revenue at Medtox Scientific, Inc., of St. Paul, Minnesota. The company released its fourth quarter and full year earnings last Wednesday.

In the laboratory segment, MedTox said that revenue from drugs-of-abuse testing decreased 9.9%, to $36 million from $40 million in the prior year, and 5.7% to $8.5 million from $9.0 million in the prior quarter. For the full year 2009, total revenue at MedTox was $84.1 million, a 1.98% decline from $85.8 million in 2008.

Revenue from existing drugs-of-abuse testing clients dropped 18% for the quarter and 24% for the year. With an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, employers are doing fewer drug screens. However, a strong sales performance generated almost 15% more business from new clients and that volume helped offset the recorded declines in specimen volume from existing clients.

What is a more interesting outcome at MedTox is the company’s progress with establishing a clinical laboratory testing operation to compete for business in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area. This program was launched in early 2008. In the second year of operation, MedTox reports full-year revenues of $22.9 million from clinical laboratory testing. This is up from $19.3 million for 2008. Clinical Trials Services (CTS) is a significant portion of revenue in this operating division.


DIGITAL MICROFLUIDICS IS THE TECHNOLOGY that researchers at the University of Toronto are using to develop a way to measure estrogen levels from samples of breast tissue that are up to “1,000 times smaller” than the current standard for analysis.

The technology utilizes a microchip to accomplish multi-step processing of the assay. By using electrical currents to move droplets around the microchip, the research team at the Wheeler Microfluidics Laboratory (WML) can allow solvents and other chemicals to process and dissolve a dried tissue specimen. Eventually all biological elements are removed and only droplets of estrogen remain. Researchers report that the measurement of estrogen by this method is accurate.

Aaron Wheeler, Ph.D., Director at WML, is excited about the potential for this technology to be used in clinical settings. “This is relatively new and hasn’t been applied to much yet; certainly not applied to anything like what we’ve done here,” he told reporters. “It ends up being a perfect format for working with messy clinical samples.” Wheeler believes that the technology is probably about five years away from clinical use.

Current technology in breast cancer testing for estrogen levels requires a 500-milligram biopsy, described by one source as “about the size of a Tootsie Roll.” Patients must undergo anesthesia and there is a risk of scarring. This is why researchers at WML hope to develop a method which can produce an accurate estrogen result from a much smaller tissue specimen collected, for example, by fine needle aspiration (FNA).


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