The health and welfare ministry is pushing a plan to increase the number of “single-unit rooms” in nursing home facilities for the elderly. Such rooms are placed around a common space so that elderly people can maintain relationships with others while enjoying privacy in their rooms. The ministry also hopes that greater opportunities to mingle with others will prevent elderly people from becoming bedridden.

Unfortunately, because the monthly fee for a single room is expensive, many low-income people living in such rooms end up moving out. In particular, those whose annual pension income is above ¥800,000 but below ¥2.11 million tend to vacate single-unit rooms, although they receive an additional monthly ¥10,000 stipend from the public nursing care insurance system if they live in single rooms. Those with lower annual pension income who live in such rooms receive an additional stipend of ¥35,000.

In 2008, single rooms accounted for only about 20 percent of the rooms in homes for elderly people requiring special care (tokuyo). The corresponding rate was less than 5 percent in health centers for the elderly, which provide rehabilitation training and daily care services. The cost to build single rooms is higher than building shared rooms, and more care workers are required to look after their occupants. The fact that insurance system payments for care work in single rooms differs little from those for care work in shared rooms serves as a disincentive for nursing home operators to build more single-unit rooms.

In this situation, the ministry has asked a panel of the Social Welfare Council to study its proposal of asking some residents of shared rooms in tokuyo and other nursing homes, whose annual pension income is ¥2.11 million or more, to bear the additional burden of paying some ¥8,000 a month.

The additional amount would be used to subsidize the higher costs shouldered by the single-room residents whose annual pension income is above ¥800,000 but below ¥2.11 million.

The ministry explains that the proposal is necessary because the financial burden of shared room users is light compared with single room users. But the ministry’s approach is based on the idea of raising the rents of shared-room residents who reap no benefit from the unit single rooms and who may find it difficult to pay an additional ¥8,000 a month. The ministry should go back to the drawing board and come up with a fairer solution.

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