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A panel of the health and welfare ministry has written a basic plan to introduce a social security card, an IC card that will integrate the functions of the pension booklet, health insurance card and nursing care insurance card. The ministry hopes to introduce the card in fiscal 2011, with demonstration tests planned in some municipalities this summer.

The social security card will carry only the holder’s name and date of birth on its surface while containing an encryption system for identification. When inserted into a reading machine, the card will access relevant information stored in the computers for the pension, health insurance and nursing care insurance systems via a relay data base. Thus the holder of the card will be able to know information such as the amount of pension premiums he or she has paid as well as medical and nursing care services he or she has received.

The ministry says one of the card’s merits is that it will tend to prevent situations in which a person who has withdrawn from a health insurance plan continues to receive medical treatment under the plan. The advantage to medical institutions will be to reduce the amount of their unrecoverable fees.

The ministry also says that since the card enables a person to know the amount of insurance premiums he or she has paid and the value of health insurance and nursing care insurance benefits he or she has received or will receive, it will have the effect of restraining a person’s receipt of medical and nursing care services. But the card is not intended to put psychological pressure on people who need to go to doctors or receive nursing care services. Going to doctors at an early stage of illness will still be encouraged, since seeing a doctor after illness becomes severe often increases medical costs.

There is a risk of private information leakage from the card system. For this reason, the panel gave up on the idea of introducing a unified social security number. Careful public debate is necessary. The most important thing is to make the pension, medical and nursing care systems more reliable — not to introduce the IC card for its own sake.

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