TOKYO -- The Japanese government is aiming to generally abolish health insurance cards by promoting use of "My Number" social security and tax cards as health insurance cards at clinics and hospitals.
The government is considering stating this goal in its economic and fiscal policy basic plan due to be finalized in June. The promotion of My Number insurance cards is part of the government's "digital transformation" promotion initiative, including reforming Japan's medical and nursing care fields using digital technology.
The basic fiscal policy plan will include other My Number card-related goals. These include requiring medical institutions and pharmacies to install systems so patients can use their My Number insurance cards in fiscal 2023, and introducing a framework by the end of fiscal 2024 in which insurers such as corporate health insurance unions can choose whether to continue issuing their own health insurance cards.
Health insurance cards, usually plastic or folded paper, are issued by health insurance unions and similar institutions. My Number cards could start being used as health insurance cards in October 2021. Medical institutions can confirm the card holder's identification by scanning the card with a machine, and can also check a patient's prescriptions and medical bill history on a dedicated website or app.
However, there aren't many medical facilities accepting My Number insurance cards. According to the health ministry, some 130,000 facilities, or roughly 58% of all medical institutions, had applied for a card reader as of May 15. But due to semiconductor shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic, just 40,000 facilities, or 19%, can accommodate My Number insurance cards. In other words, Japan has hardware hurdles to clear before the cards can be widely used.
Establishing a nationwide medical information-sharing platform is likely to be included in the basic plan. The platform will have a standardized electronic medical chart format, and be a place to share and exchange patients' prescription and vaccination history. The government also aims to cut the country's ballooning medical costs by applying the digital reform policy to medical institutions' routine clerical work, including invoicing health insurance unions, and plans to include this initiative in the basic policy as well.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Yuki Nakagawa, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)