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Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Government to crack down on welfare fraud as payouts balloon
By AYAKO MIE
With the record number of people on welfare putting a strain on government coffers, the welfare ministry plans to clamp down on fraud.
At a National Policy Unit meeting Monday, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoko Komiyama unveiled a plan that includes more stringent measures to spot abusers of the system and encourage relatives to financially support the beneficiaries.
The administration is set to compile its final strategy by fall.
According to the report, the ministry will ameliorate the electronic medical bill system introduced last year. With the new system, local welfare offices will be automatically alerted to dubious cases in which beneficiaries are seeing doctors excessively or are overly prescribed with certain types of drugs.
The ministry will also tweak the system to gauge the total assets of recipients and applicants by asking banks to provide information by December. Under the current system, a welfare office only has access to financial information held by a local bank branch under its jurisdiction.
In one of the loopholes under the present system, if applicants have bank accounts in other cities, it makes it impossible to gauge the real financial viability of applicants and beneficiaries.
These changes are being made at a time when a record number of people have been applying for welfare.
As of February, more than 2.9 million people were on welfare, and they will cost the nation a whopping ¥3.7 trillion in fiscal 2012.
This amount is expected to balloon by 40 percent — to ¥5.2 trillion — in 2025, which will account for almost 1 percent of gross domestic product, according to the ministry.
To reduce the number of beneficiaries and urge recipients to become more financially sustainable, the ministry is also set to introduce a system in which municipalities will collect and save a part of the beneficiaries' payment and return it when they get off the system.
The recent scandal about the mother of a popular comedian receiving welfare sparked criticism of close relatives who are financially able to support beneficiaries but don't help out, and also lax monitoring by the government.
The ministry is mulling whether to strengthen penalties for abuse.
If close relatives say they don't have the means to provide some assistance to those on welfare, Komiyama said the ministry will order them to prove why they can't afford it.