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More than 1,000 disability pension recipients face payment suspension

In this June 15, 2015 file photo, the Japan Pension Service's Akita bureau is seen in the city of Akita. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japan Pension Service is examining ending basic disability pension payments to more than 1,000 recipients as their disability levels do not meet benefit requirements, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

Public pension payment administrators have already sent a notice to those covered by the cut that the service will make a judgment about their benefit eligibility by the end of this fiscal year, and offering a one-year grace period.

The change appears to be the result of the centralization in Tokyo of eligibility checks previously conducted by each prefecture. Many recipients are worried about the cut as their conditions are not improving.

The basic disability pension of around 800,000 yen or more per year is paid to patients who develop difficult-to-cure illnesses before they turn 20, or national pension recipients who become disabled. Those with a grade one disability are eligible for annual payments of around 970,000 yen, and those diagnosed with a grade two disability receive around 780,000 yen. Parent beneficiaries receive additional payments depending on how many children they have. As of March last year, some 1.84 million people were on the payment list.

According to the pension service and people familiar with the case, 1,010 recipients received notices that their payments may be discontinued. All of them are adults and developed disabilities before they turned 20.

In 2017, this group of recipients entered a contract renewal phase that comes every several years depending on their condition, and submitted medical certificates to the pension service. In response, the service sent out notices from December last year through this past January telling the recipients that it has been determined they do not meet the criteria for basic disability pension benefits. The service also stated in the notice that payments will continue for fiscal 2018, and that payments may be stopped if another set of eligibility checks this fiscal year reveals no change in the recipients' diagnoses.

The pension service did not disclose whether there had been any past suspensions of disability pension payments to as many as 1,000 people at once, saying no data was available. But it said the latest suspension notice was the first to be accompanied by a grace period. A Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare senior official explained that the grace period is "designed to ease the impact (of the cut)," adding that recipients may avoid the suspension through additional checks.

Behind this change is the streamlining of the eligibility evaluation procedure. The pension service's regional centers in each prefecture used to handle the process and local doctors carried out the checks based on medical certificates. But as complaints about regional differences in the ratios of those who were deemed ineligible for benefits emerged, the pension service centralized the evaluation process at the disability pension center in Tokyo in April 2017, and also tapped different doctors. This change resulted in more cases of ineligibility.

A pension service official in charge of the matter explained that they decided not to end payments based solely on the latest medical certificate because of the recent procedural change, adding that their handling of the case is appropriate.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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