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Editorial: Forced merger of My Number, insurance cards in Japan lacks public support

The Japanese government is promoting a process of "digitalization that leaves no one behind." But its latest policy seems to go against that ideal.

    The government announced that the current health insurance cards will be abolished in the autumn of 2024 and incorporated into the government's "My Number" individual number card system. This basically makes it mandatory to obtain a My Number card because it is needed to obtain medical treatment covered by insurance.

    The question of whether this is consistent with the My Number Act, which states that acquisition of the cards is voluntary, needs to be debated in the Diet.

    No doubt, the cards will enhance convenience. It will no longer be necessary to get a new insurance card when changing jobs, and administrative errors in medical care will also decrease. Doctors will be able to check people's past medication and put the information to use in medical treatment.

    The government has for a long time aimed to merge the My Number cards with insurance cards. But it did not establish a time limit for doing so, and it was supposed to consider the issue while taking into consideration the spread of the cards and the readiness of medical institutions, among other factors.

    Nearly seven years have passed since the government began issuing the cards, but only half of the population has them. Furthermore, only about 30% of medical institutions are equipped to handle them. Can the cards spread throughout Japan's population in just another two years? It would be a stretch to say that the government has taken the current circumstances into consideration.

    The latest policy appears to be driven by the government's desire to somehow promote the proliferation of the cards. It had encouraged people to get them by offering points to those who acquired them, but the cards have not spread as far as the government had hoped.

    The hassle involved in obtaining a card is not the only reason for this -- deep-rooted distrust and uneasiness remain regarding the government's management of personal information and its application of data.

    Will there be a system allowing people who don't want to get a My Number card to receive insured medical care? And how will the government respond when people lose their cards? There are a number of questions that arise, but the government says that it will consider these issues in the future.

    It is necessary to implement measures that will make the My Number system useful in daily life. Support for people struggling can be extended swiftly, and administrative procedures can be made more efficient.

    Common number systems have become entrenched overseas, mainly in Europe and North America, but in Japan, people's wariness about the government having a hold on their personal information has not been dispelled. Hasty implementation of the system must be avoided.

    The government's digitalization drive has been marked by a top-down approach with its method of setting a deadline and trying to force the process forward. The government says it aims to implement a shared system between central and local government systems by fiscal 2025, but many local governments are doubtful about whether they will be able to meet this target.

    It would be going about things the wrong way if a rush to achieve results merely invited confusion and distrust. The Japanese government must not be negligent in providing a careful explanation to the public and taking procedures to obtain their understanding.

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