About 10 percent of all seniors have been recognized as in great need of external assistance under the public nursing-care insurance system a year after its launch, according to the Health Ministry.

Of the 2.5 million people aged 65 or older, 1.3 million have actually received support at home and 620,000 at facilities under the system, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

The nursing-care insurance system was launched April 1, 2000, to provide help to senior citizens needing care at a time when the country’s population is aging rapidly.

People aged 65 or older and their families are free to choose whether beneficiaries will receive support at home or at a facility on a contractual basis, as opposed to previous care plans that only provided public services.

In October, the government intends to put the system into full operation as the fifth public social-security system in Japan — after medical, pension, unemployment and workers’ accident-compensation insurance programs — by starting to collect premiums from those aged 65 and over.

Seniors were exempted from making such payments for the first six months from April 2000, and need only pay half the premiums for one year from October 2000.

The scheme is aimed at socializing care for aged citizens who are sick or weak. Traditionally, families have cared for elderly members.

To mitigate the staggering public costs and family burdens of providing such care, the program obliges people aged 40 or above to pay monthly premiums to cover the cost of dispatching professional caregivers to beneficiaries’ homes and the cost of caring for beneficiaries at special facilities.

The ministry plans to beef up measures for elderly people suffering from senile dementia by setting up three research centers for such care in fiscal 2001 in Tokyo, Miyagi and Aichi prefectures.

The centers will study leading-edge research in the field and also provide officials of local governments nationwide with training programs, aiming to spread nursing-care skills, the ministry said.

It will also subsidize the construction of group homes for the elderly by nonprofit organizations, it said.

The ministry also intends to review authorization for support levels for senile people.

Later this year, the government will start preparing revisions of premiums and benefits expected to be put in place in April 2003.

The low payment for expert care managers, who design care plans for the beneficiaries, outlining the kinds of services beneficiaries can receive, including care schedules and service providers, has been one of the problems with the nursing-care system.

However, twists and turns are expected in discussions on raising such payments as this could also cause premium hikes.

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