The provincial government is hoping to crack down on health care fraud through the introduction of the new BC Services Card.
Over the next five years most residents will transition to the new high-tech cards which unlike the current CareCards carry an expiry date. One of the goals of the program is to make it more difficult for people to use cards illegitimately to access health services.
"We think there are some people currently using the Medical Services Plan that shouldn't be using it," Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said in a phone interview, adding there are millions of health cards in circulation which aren't accounted for.
That includes people who have moved away from the province but have kept their card active, people who find lost cards and use them as their own or people who share their CareCard with others. It will cost $150 million over five years to launch the new cards, but MacDiarmid said there could be some cost savings from a reduction in fraud.
"We do think there is some fraud, but I'm not able to quantify it," MacDiarmid said.
The new card, which will be available next month, will include a photo ID, a microchip, a bar code and a magnetic strip. Since it will only be valid for five years, it will need to be renewed like a driver's licence which will allow the province to keep track of people who move away. It will also prevent different people from using the same card.
"Now that it's going to be a card with a photograph on it, when people go to the doctor or go to get a lab test, the person who is at reception is going to be required to confirm the picture matches up and the card is valid," MacDiarmid said, noting that it's unsafe for people to share cards.
"You can imagine that if two or three people are using the same health number, then that's going to build up a health record that actually is wrong," she said. "It's going to have information from more than one person it and that could end up being quite dangerous for somebody."
Children and older people who aren't mobile will be exempt from the photo ID requirement of the new cards.
For most people, they will get the new cards as they go in to renew their driver's licence - in fact the two cards can be combined into one. There's another system in place for people without driver's licences.
For those that choose the combined card option, MacDiarmid said there are protections to ensure individual privacy isn't violated. For instance just because it's one card doesn't mean ICBC will be able to access someone's health records.
"The chip itself won't have any personal information on it," she said. "All the will happen once that software is activated is it's a way to identify that you are you, securely . . . the information will not be stored on the card, the information will still be where it is in the government today."
The cards are being designed in such a way that other government services can be added to them in the future, but the specifics are still being studied.
"In time, instead of having to go physically to a Service BC counter, people will actually be able to do more things online," MacDiarmid said.