The B.C. government's plan to roll out new high-tech CareCards for British Columbians may be delayed because of an ongoing labour dispute, says the health minister.
Margaret MacDiarmid said Thursday her government's $150-million program to distribute new CareCards beginning at the end of November is threatened by ongoing job action at the Insurance Corporation of B.C., where workers are refusing to be trained on the new devices.
"I hope it's not delayed, but there's the possibility of it being delayed," MacDiarmid said in an interview.
"As important as it is to get it rolling, the training has to happen and we have to be making sure we're doing a good job of serving people when it actually happens."
The government had intended to start issuing new CareCards on Nov. 30. The rollout would be phased in over the next five years and linked to renewal of drivers' licences at ICBC offices.
The goal was for ICBC staff to collect old CareCards and create and issue new ones.
But ICBC workers are locked in a bitter wage dispute with the Crown corporation, and have refused CareCard training as part of ongoing job action that also includes targeted strikes and an overtime ban.
"As part of our job action, we've said our members will not be trained on dealing with the CareCards," said David Black, president of the union local representing ICBC workers.
Black said he hopes ICBC will be more inclined to settle the labour dispute as the CareCard deadline approaches.
The government has so far spent $17 million of the $150 million budgeted for the new card program, said MacDiarmid.
Enrolment will be mandatory, and old CareCards will be cancelled in an attempt to reduce fraud, she said.
Only those younger than 19, and certain elderly or disabled residents, will be exempt from what is effectively a massive re-enrolment of millions of British Columbians into the healthcare system.
"We have between eight and nine million CareCards that have been issued in this province that are out there somewhere, and we have four and a half million British Columbians," said MacDiarmid.
"So we believe there are at least some cards out there not legitimately being used."
People will also have the option of merging their new CareCards with their drivers' licences in an all-in-one B.C. Services Card.
The new cards will contain enhanced security features, as well as embedded chip technology that the government has said will one day allow people to authenticate their identities and access secure government Internet services, such as health records, billing information and possibly even online voting.
None of those features will be available in November, when the new cards launch, but they are possible in the future, said MacDiarmid.
NDP health critic Mike Farnworth said the government hasn't been clear about its plans for the CareCards since it first announced the project in mid-2011.
"I think it's just more confusion on what has been a very confusing and illexplained project," he said.
"There's an awful lot of questions people have that government hasn't even begun to answer."
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