New health care card aims at fraud

B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong

VICTORIA – There are 9.1 million B.C. CareCards in circulation, but only 4.5 million people live in B.C. That’s one reason why the province’s health care costs are so high.

Health Minister Mike de Jong is introducing a new “smart card” in an effort to cut down on unauthorized access to the health care system by residents of the United States and other jurisdictions who do not pay into the Medical Services Plan.

De Jong introduced legislation Thursday to replace the plastic cards that B.C. started issuing in 1989. The new cards will include a picture and an electronic chip, and drivers will have the option of including health care registration on their driver’s licence.

As with the driver’s licence, people will have to enrol and then renew the card every five years to maintain medical coverage. De Jong said there will be no extra charge for the new card, whether it is separate or included on a driver’s licence renewal.

A program will be developed to go out to seniors’ homes and reach people who do not drive, he said. It is expected to take five years to put the new system in place.

De Jong said the health ministry doesn’t have statistics on how much fraud there is, but other provinces have found that people are coming from other countries to take advantage of the health care system.

NDP health critic Mike Farnworth said he wants to know how much the smart card program is going to cost, and how much it will really save. A survey of 399 cards last year indicated that 94 per cent of patients claiming MSP coverage were legitimate residents of B.C., he said.

MSP enrolment entitles people to publicly paid hospital treatment, as well as subsidized coverage for ambulance service and prescription drugs. De Jong said no one will be refused care, but those without MSP coverage will be billed for services.