A bank card processing company announced a new venture Monday aimed at garnering a significant share of the fledgling health-care credit card business.

In what could be a challenge to the bank credit cards' efforts to capture medical payments, Command Credit Corp. said it has obtained a contract to build an automated system that could link 5,000 doctors' offices, clinics, and other locations by 1994.

Command Credit said it "conservatively estimates" it will be processing one million medical cards in the first year of operation. The cards, named Medical Express, will guarantee payments to health-care providers. Command Credit will forward the payments, collecting the necessary funds from consumers and insurance companies.

Focus on Efficiency

The announcement by the Rockville Centre, N.Y., company comes at a time of increasing attention to efficiency in medical payments, and attempts by MasterCard, Visa, and some member banks to play a streamlining role.

Consumers in 1990 paid more than $136 billion out of their own pockets on health care, or $1,500 per household, with some consumers' total expenditures rising more than 20% annually, according to a recent Visa U.S.A. study.

MasterCard has set a goal of handling 10% of the out-of-pocket total. It processed $1.7 billion in health-care payments last year, up 13% from 1990.

While the credit card community covets medical sales, few such programs have taken off. Observers said that if Command meets its goal, it would become the largest U.S. issuer of medical payment cards.

Payments via Plastic

"There has never been anybody in this business that has offered such a comprehensive system," said Richard Finnis, a Command Credit executive vice president based in Boca Raton, Fla.

Mr. Finnis said Command Credit has lined up financing from a group of investors based in Rancho Mirage, Calif., called Health Services Credit Corp.

Speaking on behalf of his backers, Mr. Finnis said Command Credit will build a computer processing system and issue plastic cards for the venture.

Command Credit and Health Services will try sell doctors and hospitals on accepting the cards, and help the health care providers market the program to patients. Command will run the point-of-sale terminals in doctors' offices, which will be used to authorize transactions.

Mr. Finnis said Command Credit will pay doctors 75 to 80 cents for every dollar billed, and will make money by seeking payment in full from insurers and cardholders. The spread between the amounts would be Command's profit.

Physicians are supposed to benefit by getting immediate payment and avoiding losses or writeoffs on unpaid amounts.

Mr. Finnis said Health Services has already signed up some large clinics and doctors, but he declined to name them.

He said the company expects to be able to issue more than 250,000 cards when it starts operations in January, expanding to a million by the end of next year.

Barry Treash, who is reportedly leading the Health Services venture, did not return phone calls that sought to verify Mr. Finnis' assertions. Other industry participants said they had not heard of the venture.

A Shareholder's Prediction

Scott Sieck, an investment analyst in Orlando, Fla., for the Denver-based MDC Group Inc., predicted that Command Credit could gain $3 million of revenue next year from its medical card program.

But Mr. Sieck is an interested party: he said he owns 8,000 shares of Command stock, which has recently traded near $3 a share on the over-the-counter market.

A $3 million revenue stream would be a big boost for Command Credit, an upstart company that has set out to make a mark on the card business by accepting customers other issuers reject.

Command's main business has been running computer systems that process transactions for 28,000 secured credit cards, which banks issue to customers unable to get conventional, unsecured cards.

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