The Yomiuri ShimbunA record 13,371 people 65 or older had assets seized by municipalities in fiscal 2015 as a penalty for not paying nursing care insurance premiums, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey.
Although the system to reduce the insurance premium burden shouldered by low-income earners has been strengthened since fiscal 2015, the premiums themselves have increased. Many elderly people seem to be struggling to pay them.
Of the 1,741 cities, wards, towns and villages nationwide, 564 — or about 30 percent — seized assets of elderly people who had fallen behind with premium payments. The number was up 32 percent from 10,118 in fiscal 2014 and the highest since the ministry began the surveys in fiscal 2012.
Most people have premiums deducted from their pensions. However, pensioners receiving less than ¥180,000 per year must directly pay their premiums to local governments. People in this category have fallen into arrears. Many of them also had meager savings, meaning local authorities could only recover enough money to actually cover unpaid premiums in 60 percent of cases.
The statute of limitations for collecting money for nonpayment is two years. Although the timing of authorities seizing assets varies, it has been only a few months after payments fell into arrears in some cases. If an elderly person does not pay premiums for two years or longer, they must pay 30 percent of the cost of nursing care services from their own pocket, rather than the 10 percent in principle shouldered by those who pay their premiums.
During fiscal 2015, 10,447 people were subjected to this penalty. The amount of premiums in arrears over two years totaled ¥59.1 billion up to fiscal 2014.
Cost rising; relief delayed
The surge in nursing care insurance premium costs is behind the increase in elderly people having assets seized after falling behind with payments. Demand for nursing care has risen due to the aging of society, and the national average monthly premium has soared from ¥2,911 in fiscal 2000 — when the nursing care insurance system was introduced — to ¥5,514 in fiscal 2015. It is forecast to climb to ¥8,165 in fiscal 2025.
Measures to mitigate premiums for low-income earners were planned to be expanded at the time of raising the consumption tax rate to 10 percent. But the plan was shelved as the consumption tax rate hike was postponed.
The penalty of having to pay 30 percent of the nursing care services bill could make some people hesitate to use these necessary services.