Alberta's personal health card panned as obsolete, fraud-prone

by Leo Almazora20 Nov 2017
People are expected to take care of any form of government-issued identification, but in the case of Alberta’s personal health card, that may be problematic.

“Despite its alleged status as a ‘card,’ the Alberta Personal Health Card is not even printed on cardstock,” said a recent think piece on the National Post. “Rather, it arrives as a piece of regular paper emblazoned with the Quixotic plea to ‘please protect your card.’”

According to columnist Tristin Hopper, a laminated card will not fit in a wallet, and the printed text on a paper card tends to get lifted off with friction if it’s kept in a protective sleeve. The card is reportedly so fragile that some Albertans have decided to just write their health numbers on Post-It notes.

“And it’s been this way since 1969. The current design — a two-tone design personalized with a dot matrix printer — has been untouched since the early 1990s,” Hopper said.

Because of the card’s simple design, she said, it’s prone to forgery, which reportedly allows anyone with a basic printer to fraudulently access thousands of dollars in healthcare. Even if cards are not forged, replacements are issued easily because of how susceptible to damage they are.

Border communities with more health cards than people had been reported since 1998, Hopper added, “indicating a likely black market of Americans coming over the Montana border to cheat Alberta healthcare.”

Hopper also noted a 2004 report from Alberta’s Auditor General, estimating that the province wastes up to $80 million annually from card-related healthcare fraud. Merwan Saher, Alberta’s Auditor General in 2015, repeated the warning, saying that the health insurance card could be regarded as a “credit card without a spending limit.”

While the Alberta government reportedly considers updating the card every few months, it has not pushed through. “[The paper card] persists despite Alberta having one of the most generous healthcare budgets in Canada,” Hopper said. “In 2017, the Canadian Institute for Health Information estimated that Alberta would spend $7,329 per person on healthcare.”

She noted that the level of expenditure is second only to Newfoundland and Labrador even though Alberta’s population doesn’t have a large ratio of seniors.

“Far be it from me to speculate that Alberta’s decades-long refusal to phase out this idiotic fraud-prone card may provide some clue as to the forces that permitted such a disproportionately high budget to mount,” Hopper said.

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