敬老の日 安心できる超高齢社会に

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Sep. 21, 2009)
Assuage people's fears over hyper-aging society
敬老の日 安心できる超高齢社会に(9月21日付・読売社説)

Respect-for-the-Aged Day falls Monday, a few days after the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took office.

This nation is aging faster than any other in the world.

In 1966, when Respect-for-the-Aged Day became a national holiday, the average life span of Japanese males was 68 and that of females 73. Currently, men live an average of 79 years and women 86 years, and life spans are bound to continue to lengthen. We live in an era in which about 1.3 million, or one in 100, of the nation's population are aged 90 or older.

Of course, graying itself is not something to feel anxious about. It is gratifying that many people live long.

Nevertheless, our hyper-aging society tends to be described in gloomy terms, no doubt due to concern that the social security system is unsustainable.

To dispel such anxieties, the new administration faces a mountain of tasks related to reconstructing and maintaining the pension system and medical and nursing care services, all of which are vital to support elderly people's lives.


DPJ must make right decision

The first daunting challenge facing the new administration is overhauling the medical insurance system for elderly people.

At a press conference he gave after assuming his post, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma reiterated that the medical insurance system for those aged 75 and older would be abolished. He did not say when the current system would be scrapped. As for a system that would replace the existing one, Nagatsuma said it would be designed to reflect realities. This was a pragmatic choice.

The medical insurance system for those aged 75 and over was crafted to resolve the severe strain that the health insurance system for elderly people had come under. It clarified the burden that working generations must shoulder to pay the medical expenses of those aged 75 and older. It also removed the disparities in premiums that existed within individual prefectures by setting up prefectural-run insurers.

Although it is true that the current system is flawed and was never explained properly, the emotional backlash over its name--its reference to elderly people aged 75 and older as koki koreisha (late-stage elderly people)--and other elements predominated during discussions over the new system, with the result that it was never discussed in a calm manner.

When the DPJ was an opposition party, it was all right to press the government on the system's defects and parrot the slogan "Abolish the new system immediately and reinstate the old medical insurance system for the elderly."
But since it has become the ruling party and taken over the reins of government, it will not be forgiven if it makes a decision that could invite confusion.


Have sales tax fund welfare

Weighing up the merits and demerits of the medical insurance system for those aged 75 and older and then reconstructing it would not mean breaking the DPJ's election campaign pledge to abolish the existing system.
We hope the DPJ formulates a blueprint for the medical insurance system for the elderly calmly and constructively.

In doing so, if increases in health insurance premiums and over-the-counter payments by patients are seen to have reached their limit, there is no option but to increase the injection of public money. That is true not only in the case of medical services, but also for pension and nursing care insurance systems.

But can the DPJ fund measures for elderly people without increasing taxes at a time when securing financial resources for other new policies, such as the monthly child-rearing allowance, is in question?

If the consumption tax is transformed into a social security tax so that financial resources can be properly secured, the government will have more choices in formulating policies for this hyper-aging society. The new administration should make a decision on the medical insurance system for elderly people without delay.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 21, 2009)
(2009年9月21日01時12分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-09-21 07:20 | 英字新聞

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