A much-touted Visa credit card program debuted three years ago by Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. to funnel money to community health projects has gone belly up.
The program is a casualty of the ongoing restructuring at the nation's largest hospital company.
"It was part of our branding campaign, and of course, we're not doing it anymore," said Jeff Prescott, a Columbia spokesman.
Nashville-based Columbia dumped its national branding campaign after Richard Scott was ousted as chairman and president last July. The company now is embroiled in massive federal and state fraud investigations over its billing practices.
But three years after the credit card program's start, neither Columbia nor the bank that issued the cards will say how much money-if any at all-those communities received.
Ed Dzitko, a spokesman for People's Bank of Bridgeport, Conn., which issued the cards, says the bank doesn't discuss how many cards were issued or how much was charged.
When the credit card program was first announced, Columbia had high hopes for it. Called an affinity card, the program was expected to contribute $1 million annually to community organizations by returning a portion of the money charged (Aug. 14, 1995, p. 3). Affinity cards offering retail rebates or frequent-flier mileage have become wildly successful.
The hospital company expected 100,000 credit card accounts to be opened with 35 cents of every $100 charged being invested in communities where Columbia had hospitals.
A spokeswoman at the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce-in Columbia's hometown-says the group is unfamiliar with the program.
Often criticized for practicing profit-driven medicine, Columbia touted a credit card with the company's logo as another way to showcase its community benefits.
While some accepted Columbia's claim that the program was designed to help communities, others considered it as one of a series of public relations moves by the chain to soften its hard-core business image.
"By using the Columbia Visa card, people can join us in our efforts to improve the quality of life for people in our communities," Scott told MODERN HEALTHCARE at the time.