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High tech CareCard relaunch aims for February

But privacy review is still underway

B.C.'s health minister wants to relaunch a high-tech CareCard program that was delayed by labour strife. But the province's privacy commissioner is warning she has yet to finish her review of the project.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said a recent settlement with public insurance workers means the $150-million project to replace virtually every CareCard in B.C. can now proceed within two months.

"We're now anticipating mid-February as the up-and-running day," MacDiarmid said in an interview. "It is a delay. Not a huge delay."

The project was initially set to begin this month. The new CareCards will gradually be issued when motorists renew their driver's licences at Insurance Corporation of B.C. offices.

People will also have the option of combining their Care-Cards and driver's licences into a new B.C. Services Card.

The complex multi-year project is undergoing a mandatory privacy and security assessment by B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Denham said the new technology, which paves the way for online government services, is the first of its kind in Canada and requires a comprehensive privacy review that is not yet complete.

"It is my expectation that government will not go ahead with the B.C. Services Card until they have received my comments about the privacy and security aspects of this program," she said in a statement.

Her office has "outstanding questions" and is reviewing the system and its security architecture, she said.

The government has been answering Denham's questions throughout the project's development, said MacDiarmid.

"I'm not aware there were any outstanding concerns," she said. "But if she at any point does have concerns, absolutely we'd work with her."

But the minister admitted the commissioner's review should be done before the program launches.

Enrolment in the new Care-Card program will be mandatory, in an attempt to reduce health-care fraud. The government has said there are as many as nine million Care-Cards in a province of only four and a half million people.

The new cards will contain enhanced security features such as embedded chip technology.

The government will also launch a campaign in January to educate the public about the new CareCards, said MacDiarmid.

"We're going to have to do what you'd call advertising, but it's not political at all," she said. "It is explaining the process. We want the program to be successful, and want the public to understand what the benefits will be as well."

rshaw@timescolonist.com