Feds, States Pilot Smart Health Cards

State and local officials in Bismark, N.D., and Cheyenne, Wyo., next month will kick off a multistate pilot project with the federal government to deliver a variety of public health programs on a single smart card.

The Health Passport Project will provide smart cards to about 25,000 people, including pregnant women as well as mothers and children who are eligible for public health programs such as Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

The cards will store basic health-related information, such as immunization records. The program also will make it possible to electronically store in a single database the information that comes from different agencies in charge of human services programs.

The vision for the project, said Chris McKinnon, program manager at the Western Governors Association, "grew out of a desire to combine a number of different health care benefits and health care services for women and children. The idea was to cut down on costs for health care and provide the best care when and where it is needed."

In addition, the project aims to give patients more control over their health care information. Information on the smart card -- including a patient's name, weight, height, immunization records, vision exams, WIC benefits, and government program and referral information -- can only be accessed or updated using the patient's personal identification number. A card holder would swipe the card through a reader at a doctor's office, for example, and then enter a PIN. Health care providers also would have PINs that determine what data on the patient's card they can access.

"Clients control that information," McKinnon said. "The long-range idea is that a client could take this card and travel to emergency-care facilities or other places and with them have a card containing health records and secured identification data." The card will eliminate the need to fill out the same paperwork for different programs over and over.

The 18-month pilot project will begin next month in Bismark and Cheyenne but will wrap up in Reno, Nev., in the fall. Reno was selected to participate in the project in part because the city represents a diverse population of beneficiaries. The city, which will begin the pilot in mid-September, is the only site that has no existing electronic benefits transfer infrastructure, which is necessary to deliver WIC benefits, said Marty Brown, a consultant hired by the Western Governors Association to oversee Reno's participation.

Siemens Information and Communications Networks is the prime contractor for the Health Passport Project. The company is providing all technology, infrastructure, support and training for the project, which is the largest health care smart card project in the country, said Mike Irvine, the project's program leader at Siemens.

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