In a sign of convergence between the financial and health care industries, a Colorado-based management company has announced plans for a private-label medical credit card.
Medplus Corp., which is based in Colorado Springs and has an office in Las Vegas, contracted with First Family Financial Services to issue its credit cards.
The banking industry is only indirectly involved, helping to finance Medplus' operations.
Meanwhile, banks, American Express Co., and others active in the card and transaction-processing areas continue to explore automated-payment opportunities in the health care field.
Fast Growth in Cards
First Family is a $600 million-asset subsidiary of Associates Corp. of North America, a unit of Ford Motor Co. that has been growing rapidly in credit cards and other forms of consumer credit.
First Family, which has offices in the Southeast, was formerly owned by First Financial Management Corp. When First Financial, a transaction processing company, decided last year to stop serving consumers directly, it sold First Family to Associates and an affiliated thrift, Georgia Federal Bank, to First Union Corp.
Under its agreement with Medplus, First Family will provide the cards to be offered to consumers who participate in Medplus' Patient Plus health care network.
Medplus specializes in what it calls "patient financing," which involves payments of advances to physicians and other providers in the Patient Plus "alliance."
"Medplus continues to make significant progress" in patient financing, said executive vice president Tim D. DeHerrera. "Our joint alliance marketing programs with key market leaders is proving to be effective in penetrating this $160 billion area of health care expenditures."
First Family is "excited about Medplus Corp.'s strategic alliance approach to marketing," said Donna Rohm, the Atlanta-based finance company's vice president of sales. "We are confident that this approach will make Medplus one of the premier private-label credit cards in the industry."
Separately, Medplus said it signed a patient financing agreement with Norwest Financial Inc., a subsidiary of Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp.
Mr. DeHerrera described Norwest as "a quality addition to the growing consortium of finance sources with which Medplus is working to provide convenient, flexible , and personalized financial service to health-care providers."
Equifax, BellSouth Deal
Equifax Inc., a company with close ties to consumer banking through its credit bureau business, is increasing its health care involvement with the purchase of an information services unit of BellSouth Enterprises.
Atlanta-based Equifax said that Sept. 8 that it signed a letter of intent to acquire Cooperative Healthcare Networks of Alpharetta, Ga.
Equifax's goal, as in consumer credit, is to become a full-service information provider to the industry. And there may be synergies between processing of medical payments and claims, which is Cooperative Healthcare's specialty, and the credit reporting and transaction processing done by other Equifax units.
"The CHN acquisition supports our vision to become the market leader in integrating information and decision support services with all segments of health care delivery," said C.B. "Jack" Rogers Jr., Equifax's chairman and chief executive officer.
Cooperative Healthcare operates StatLink, which provides for electronic data interchange of health care transactions and information among insurers, health care providers, and credit card and other payment systems.
In 1982, Equifax acquired Health Economics Corp., which, Mr. Rogers said, complements Cooperative Healthcare.
"We are committed to meeting the needs of the evolving health care information industry as it deals with continuing complexities," he said.