Bank One Columbus has hitched its credit card program to the hot national issue of health care.

The flagship of Banc One Corp. began testing a discount package, Countrywide Dental, in August.

For $69.95 a year per family, Banc One cardholders can get one oral exam and two X-rays, plus 25% to 30% off the price of other dental procedures.

The first 30 days are free, and the subscription comes with a money-back guarantee.

The program, with 4,500 participating dentists in 35 states, was developed by CardMember Publishing Corp., a bank marketing group in Omaha.

Qualification Criteria

Bank One Columbus, which has issued three million credit cards, plans to offer the program next year to customers who have good payment records and who live within 30 miles of at least five participating dentists.

David Schachne, Card-Member Publishing's vice president of marketing, said Bank One is the first national issuer committing to a rollout. As many as five other big issuers -- which he would not name - are poised to sign contracts. Two smaller banks are offering Countrywide Dental nationally.

CardMember Publishing is not the only marketer to offer a dental program to card issuers. A number of other dental programs are being delivered by smaller banks regionally. The Signature Group, a subsidiary of Montgomery Ward & Co. of Chicago, was a pioneer in this area when it introduced a similar national program, Signature Dental, in 1988.

Members of the Program

Among the card issuers in Signature's program are Citicorp, Chase Manhattan Corp., GE Capital Corp., and First Chicago Corp. Signature Dental costs $6.95 a month, or $72 a year.

Why are the dental programs selling?

According to CardMember Publishing, 60% of Americans are not covered by dental insurance. Many companies are eliminating dental coverage as a benefit. And the Clinton health care program is likely to exclude adults from its dental coverage.

"We try to offer services that are not typically covered by insurance," said Mr. Schachne.

Caution Urged

There are skeptics, however, who say banks should be cautious with nonbank product offerings because consumers may not be aware that an outside company is managing and over seeing the service.

"Banks need to be careful in how they are getting their fee revenue, said Peter T. Dunn, managing director of Edgar, Dunn & Co., a San Francisco consulting firm. "The bank's reputation is at issue, and it is important that the trust which bank customers have is maintained in these relationships" with marketers.

In general, banks receive income from such partnerships by renting lists of card customers to the marketer. Sometimes banks will collect a percentage of the fee paid by the consumer.

According to Mr. Schachne, Banc One will earn a portion of the $69.95 fee. In addition to the income, he said. Banc One is enhancing the value of its cards.

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