To say that My Number cards, the soon-to-be mandatory digital card that incorporates national pension and health insurance, among other government services, are not without major headaches is putting it mildly.
Thanks to offered incentives like ¥20,000 in usable points, the number of valid applications has reached 96.7 million people, or 76.8% of Japan's population. But the rollout up to now, reports Shukan Gendai (May 27), has been fraught with stumbling blocks.
"In order to continually utilize their My Number health card, holders will be obliged to go to a government office to renew their card every five years," explains economic journalist Hiroko Ogiwara. "But if renewal somehow gets overlooked, they will effectively be uninsured."
Which means that for cases requiring extensive treatment, an uninsured person would be hit with huge hospital charges. For example, a person who happens to be struck down by cardiac failure might be charged over ¥20 million for treatment.
"With the old system, before health cards expire a holder is automatically sent a new one," Ogiwara points out. "With the new My Number card system however, holders will be notified of impending expiration, but in order to renew, they will need to visit the city or ward office. For elderly people living alone, or the physically handicapped, as well as those who simply overlook renewal, abrupt expiration is certainly a possibility. This raises concerns that more and more people will be left uninsured."
And that's not the only risk. When receiving treatment at a medical facility, the chances of personal data being leaked increase exponentially.
On May 12, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revealed that between October 2021 and November 2022, at least 7,300 known cases of unauthorized obtaining of personal data from My Number health insurance cards. More cases probably went unreported.
"Along with the government making it possible for the patient's digitalized medical records to be accessible, it's intended that private sector businesses will have access to the data," explains cardiologist Kazuki Sato, one of 1,075 doctors who have brought suit against the national government over the mandatory implementation of the My Number health insurance cards. "Superficially that would appear convenient, but the person's entire medical history and password can be viewed," he says.
No matter what precautions the government takes, the magazine comments, there will always be flaws in the system. And therefore there's no way to guarantee that important medical data will be safe.
Opposition to the cards also extends to rest homes and other care facilities.
"Since four-digit passwords are required to access the cards, seniors who enter care facilities have to put their numbers in writing," a staff member of a group of facilities based in Kanagawa Prefecture tells the magazine, adding, "Unlike health insurance cards, the My Number cards enable access to personal data. If unauthorized people get their hands on the material, all kinds of troubles can result."
It is already known that bad actors are involved in the compiling of "secret name lists" containing the names of household members, family assets, etc., which they sell to criminal groups. From last November through January, a team of Manila-based criminals networked with swindlers and thieves in Japan, which led to a number of home invasions and other crimes.
"If the current situation, by which My Number health insurance data can be hacked, thereby enabling criminals to target the elderly and infirm, is allowed to persist, theft of card data will wreak havoc on the nation's finances and the medical system," said the aforementioned Ogiwara. "In the worst-case scenario, Japan's public safety could suffer. It could possibly lead to a breakdown of the health care system and cost people their lives," she added.
With its strong-arm tactics, the government's considerations for the lives and safety of the citizens are being treated as lightly as the 5-gram plastic cards that carry their data, Shukan Gendai concludes.
What's more, for all the sound and fury over the rollout, we're looking at a system that will be obsolete three years from now.
Yes, you read correctly. According to Nikkan Gendai (June 5), plans have been announced for a re-launch the system -- to be called New My Number Card -- with introduction scheduled for the 2026 fiscal year. Estimated cost to the taxpayers: over ¥2 trillion.
Toshiro Miyazaki, who belongs to an NPO opposing the card's introduction, rages at the shortcomings of the current system.
"I'm appalled to hear of plans for introduction of a new card when the integration of the supposedly voluntary My Number card with the health insurance card, which is now mandatory, is itself beset by major problems. If the format changes, card reader terminals may need to be redesigned as well. The system vendors might make money, but it'll be medical institutions and the citizens that will suffer the disadvantages.
"The first thing the government should do is stop operating the My Number cards, which have been beset by lots of problems, and investigate the causes," Miyazaki said.© Japan Today