Govt must promote new arrangement through careful explanations

Health insurance cards, which are firmly rooted in society, will shift to a new format. The government must make thorough preparations to avoid confusion.

The government has decided to abolish the current health insurance cards and integrate their functions into the My Number identification card system in the autumn of 2024.

My Number cards have been issued to 50% of the population. By integrating the function of health insurance cards — an indispensable item for receiving services at medical institutions — the government aims to issue more My Number cards.

There are various benefits to using My Number cards as health insurance cards.

This arrangement makes it easier for medical institutions to confirm cardholders’ eligibility for insurance coverage. If patients give their approval, doctors and pharmacists can access and check data on medical treatments that cardholders received in the past. This could prevent drugs from being overprescribed and examinations from being repeated.

My Number cardholders can also check their own data on medical treatments and health checkups on a special website. What’s more, they do not need to get a new health insurance card issued when changing their address or job.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has highlighted Japan’s delay in digitizing its medical and administrative fields. It is important to increase the number of opportunities to use My Number cards and promote the digitization of medical services.

However, there are numerous challenges to realizing this arrangement.

The government is considering suspending the issuance of new health insurance cards from the autumn of 2024.

However, not a few elderly people believe troublesome procedures are involved in obtaining My Number cards. Some also may be concerned about potential leaks of personal information.

It is important for local governments to assist the elderly in obtaining their My Number cards by, for example, assigning specialized officials to help desks. For those who do not want to obtain My Number cards, measures need to be taken, such as issuing alternative documents.

A My Number card bears the holder’s address and name, and has an electronic certification function for identity verification, among other elements. It does not contain sensitive data such as the holder’s history of medical treatments. The government should provide careful explanations to the public and call for their understanding.

Currently, medical institutions and pharmacies are not fully prepared. Less than 40% of all such entities have set up My Number card readers.

The government had previously set “by the end of fiscal 2024” as the target for abolishing health insurance cards. Now that it has moved up the deadline for switching to the new arrangement, the government has a responsibility to establish a thorough framework.

When some patients used their My Number cards as health insurance cards this spring, they were charged more out-of-pocket fees for medical expenses than those who did not. This kind of mismanagement will not help win public confidence in the My Number system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 20, 2022)