Alberta's paper health cards not going away as redesign deemed too expensive

Albertans are getting redesigned drivers licences but the flimsy paper health care cards are not changing any time soon.

Government rolling out new driver licences with new security features

The back of an Alberta health card. The shredded state of this rectangular piece of paper is a familiar sight for many Albertans. (CBC )

Albertans are getting redesigned drivers licences but the flimsy paper health care cards are not changing any time soon.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said Wednesday the paper cards which fray, tear and fade may be frustrating, but a tight provincial budget means the government can't afford new ones.

"During the tough economic times, we had to make decisions around where we were going to put our resources and we chose to put them into frontline health care," Hoffman said.

On Wednesday, the government announced it is rolling out licences with new security features in the first redesign since 2009. 

Drivers will get the new cards when their existing licences expire.

While licences have evolved to improve security, Alberta continues to be an outlier when it comes to health cards. 

The cards have been issued in paper since they were first introduced in 1969. The government kept the paper format when they were switched from family to individual cards in the mid-1990s.

Alberta health cards show the bearer's name, birth date and health insurance number, but no photo or address.

The cards also lack expiry dates, which was criticized by former auditor general Merwan Saher in 2015.

He said Alberta could be paying for the health care of people who no longer live here because there is no requirement to renew health cards.

Hoffman said staff in her ministry are "absolutely" working on addressing the auditor general's concerns but did not say when changes were coming. 

Hoffman's preference is for Alberta to have a single ID that serves as a driver's licence and health card. She said officials continue to work on the issue. 

The cost of the driver licence redesign will not be released, as it is part of the contractor's confidential bidding process. 

The company that makes the cards is paid for each one it produces with the money coming out of licence renewal fees.

Alberta issues about 100,000 licences each month. 

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