社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 27, 2012)
Parties must deepen debate on sustainable welfare system
社会保障 持続可能な制度へ論戦深めよ(11月26日付・読売社説)


Political parties must engage in policy discussions on how to build a sustainable social security system.

The nation's population is aging quickly amid a chronically low birthrate. The present "cavalry-type" society in which every senior citizen is sustained by 2.4 people of the working population will change into a "piggyback-type" one in 30 years in which there will be only 1.3 people for every retirement-age Japanese.

If nothing is done to prevent this, the collapse of Japan's welfare system will only be a matter of time.


To help reconstruct state finances while covering rising social security costs, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito joined hands to pass the bill on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems. The centerpiece of this bill was a planned doubling of the consumption tax rate.

People's Life First and some other parties, however, want the planned tax increase rescinded. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), on the other hand, says the social security system should not be sustained with the consumption tax." This is a questionable argument.

The DPJ, the LDP and Komeito need to elaborate on the significance of the welfare and tax system reforms during campaigning for next month's House of Representatives election.

It is disconcerting that every party tends to trumpet only support for increasing welfare benefits and lessening the burdens on the public as they try to pander to voters during the election campaign.

If welfare benefits are expanded without a clear objective, the inescapable result will be an endless rise in the consumption tax rate.


Benefit outlays must be cut

Parties have a responsibility to explain how they will cap social security benefits.

The revised National Pension Law enacted during the recent extraordinary Diet session was aimed at reining in pension payments. This should be applauded. The law revision will ensure pensions that had been overpaid by 2.5 percent will return to originally set levels.

To ensure pensions can be stably provided, payment levels must be lowered further in accordance with the shifting demographics and changes in wages.

Given the declining working population and erosion in wage levels caused by the sluggish economy, workers who pay pension premiums are shouldering heavier financial burdens. This will widen the generational gap in pension payments and make it inevitable that younger generations will receive smaller payments compared with their contribution of premiums and taxes. This will make it difficult to maintain the pension system.

We urge the parties to also discuss how to expand the application of the corporate employees pension plan to nonregular workers, who have been increasing sharply, and what can be done for people who receive small pensions or none at all.

In its effort to overhaul the pension system, the DPJ calls for establishing a guaranteed minimum pension payment. If this minimum monthly payment of 70,000 yen is to be covered by tax revenue, the consumption tax will have to be increased by up to another 6.2 percentage points. The likelihood that this proposal will be implemented is low.

The draft of the DPJ campaign platform for the upcoming election does not mention any concrete figure for the minimum pension payment, apparently a reaction to the criticism it received on this issue.

On the other hand, the LDP and Komeito want the current system maintained, but neither has shown enough concrete steps to keep it intact.

We urge each party to present its vision for the public pension system and ways to improve it.


Health insurance facing crisis

As baby boomers will be 75 or older in 2025, demand for health and nursing care will rise. It can safely be said that the improvement of at-home medical and nursing care and the upgrading of nursing care facilities are needed urgently.

The DPJ asserts that the medical insurance system for elderly people 75 or older should be abolished, and people in this age group transferred to the national health insurance program.

But this medical insurance system has taken root, and there is little need to ax it.

The LDP claims "the current system will be the base" of its plans. But some points need to be corrected.

Due to the sizable contributions paid to the medical insurance system for the elderly, the finances of health insurance programs have fallen into a critical state. One such case is the National Health Insurance Association, which chiefly covers workers at small and midsize companies and their families.

Each party needs to think harder about how the current system can be reviewed.

Time is of the essence for abolishing a special measure limiting out-of-pocket payments for medical bills people aged 70 to 74 pay to 10 percent of the total, and raising the limit to 20 percent as prescribed by law.

Medical costs have been creeping up partly because elderly patients often have medical consultations and checks at more than one institution and receive duplicate medication, and due to soaring dispensing fees. These costs must be brought down to reasonable levels.

Nursing care services are also being provided to some people whose need for it is not so pressing. Issues that need to be discussed include whether the out-of-pocket burdens of nursing care service bills should be raised and making sure people who need these services most are given priority.


Roles of new council

Our society also needs to do more to rectify the low birthrate. The total fertility rate--the average number of children each woman has in her lifetime--was just 1.39 in 2011.

Under the comprehensive reform of the social security and tax systems, 700 billion yen of the revenue generated by the consumption tax increase will be allocated to child-rearing support. It is also important to consider how to find money for steps to boost the birthrate. The nation will still spend less on this than European countries do.


The soon-to-be established national council on social security system reform will have crucial roles to play. It needs to discuss how to build a solid social security system and to prepare ways to hold down benefit payments.

Unless the social security system is stable, people will remain anxious about their future. Regardless of which party holds power, it should maintain the current system while making modifications to accommodate the changing state of society. With this in mind, we hope each party will take part in constructive debates on this matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2012)
(2012年11月26日01時20分  読売新聞)

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