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DENVER-A non-profit health care cooperative this month is test marketing a credit card called "America's HealthCard" that can be used to charge medical expenses not covered by insurance.

JustCare, a Denver-based alliance of health care providers and consumers seeking to reduce health care costs and raise efficiency nationwide, has chosen Colorado as the test site for the card, which is being underwritten by Dial National Bank, a subsidiary of Norwest Financial Services of Des Moines, Iowa.

Although only a few hundred cards probably will be released initially, within a few months 20,000 to 30,000 are likely to be issued, said James A. Bryant, JustCare's vp of development.

In a few months, consumers in California, New Jersey and Texas are to be offered the card if the trial in Colorado rolls out as planned.

"It's sort of a managed growth scenario, to make sure we're successful here," Mr. Bryant said.

The card is usable at the 40 hospitals, 5,800 providers and 400 pharmacies in Colorado that participate in the JustCare network.

The card, which is independent of the major credit card associations, allows the health care recipient to pay for or charge any part of the expenses not reimbursed by health insurance, including coinsurance, deductibles and copayments.

It can be used only for medical-related expenses. For financed expenses, the interest rate is 1% per month, with an annual percentage rate of 12.96%.

A transaction fee of about 5% to 6% is added to the cost of each transaction to help defray the expenses of the cooperative, but this is more than offset by savings achieved by the group for its members through negotiated price discounts, Mr. Bryant said.

The card can also be used for routine identification when doing business with JustCare providers. It will inform them of the customer's credit status and plan eligibility. All transactions are reported on a single monthly statement to card holders.

Robert Kazel

INDIANAPOLIS-Employees at Golden Rule Insurance Co. who are covered in the company's medical savings account program this month received $823,022 in MSA refunds.

Golden Rule employees have received more than $2 million in MSA refunds since the Indianapolis-based insurer, which writes personal and commercial lines coverages, launched its MSA program in May 1993.

Refunds in 1994 totaled $734,037 and $468,549 in 1993.

The average MSA refund was $997 per employee in 1995, $1,002 in 1994 and $603 in 1993.

Under the MSA program, which more than 90% of eligible employees opt for, employees are responsible for paying the first $2,000 of medical expenses for individual coverage and $3,000 for family coverage. Golden Rule contributes $1,000 to the MSA for those with individual coverage and $2,000 to accounts for those with family coverage.

Employees can take the money out of the accounts during the year to pay for health care expenses. At the end of the year, employees are free to take in cash any remaining funds or roll them over into a special annuity.

Golden Rule Chairman J. Patrick Rooney says employees like the MSA program because it offers first-dollar coverage, the freedom to select their own health care provider and a chance to get their money back at the end of the year.

"With the MSA, the money is sitting right there in the employees' savings account for them to get medical care. Single mothers love this," Mr. Rooney said.

Golden Rule has been lobbying Congress to change tax laws so that employer contributions to MSAs would not treated as taxable income to employees.

-By Jerry Geisel

Most employers could be better at educating workers about saving for retirement and how to invest in long-term savings plans, a new study by the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute indicates.

According to the survey of 1,000 employees, three-quarters are confident about their financial futures in retirement but most have not developed specific plans for saving that will provide them with enough money in their later years.

Teaching workers about using savings programs such as 401(k) plans can improve participation, the survey says. Eighty-five percent of those who had received educational materials or had been offered seminars by employers on retirement savings had read or attended them.

Employers may want to give special attention to educating workers with a high school diploma or less because 75% of those workers are likely to use the employer-provided information, compared to 89% among college graduates. Four out of 10 of those without college degrees said that when they did consult the educational materials provided, it resulted in them increasing their investment in the plan.

Often, employees surveyed had shortcomings in their knowledge of basic savings plan investing strategy. Barely half of employees knew that U.S. government bonds in the past two decades have yielded a lower rate of return than stocks. Moreover, fewer than four out of 10 respondents said they know that it may not be "safer" to invest in employer stock rather than a diversified set of stocks.

One-quarter of those surveyed who said they were very confident or somewhat confident about their retirement incomes actually have yet to set aside any money for retirement. Workers earning less than $25,000 a year are especially inclined to have no retirement savings.

Information on the EBRI 1995 Retirement Confidence Survey is available from EBRI, 2121 K St. N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20037-1896; 202-659-0670.