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 show only the holder’s name and date of birth, while an encryption system is embedded for further identification. When inserted into a reading machine, the card will access relevant data stored in the computers of the pension, health insurance and nursing care insurance systems via a relay database. Card holders will be able access information such as the amount of pension premiums they have paid, and how much medical and nursing care service they have received.

The ministry says one of the card’s merits is that it can help prevent people illicitly benefiting from a health insurance plan they have withdrawn from. Medical institutions therefore will be able to reduce the amount of their unrecoverable fees.

The ministry also says that since the card enables a person to keep track 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 help prevent them from overusing medical and nursing care services. But the card should not be used to pressure people into refraining from seeing doctors or claiming nursing care services. Going to the doctors at the early stages of illness is still a sensible thing to do. Seeking attention after an illness becomes severe is not only risky to patients, but often increases medical costs.

There are also personal privacy concerns regarding a card system, including fears of information leakage. For this reason, the panel dismissed the idea of introducing a unified social security number. Careful public debate is still necessary. It is more important to make the pension, medical and nursing care systems more reliable than to introduce the IC card simply for its own sake.

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