Health insurance reform passed by Lower House

A bill that would more than double medical costs for the public starting Sept. 1 cleared the Lower House on May 8 with the support of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its two non-Cabinet allies.

In addition to the the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake, it received support from Taiyoto, a Shinshinto splinter party, and 21st Century, a small parliamentary group of conservative independents. The bill was moved to the Upper House for further action.

Shinshinto, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party voted against it.

The bill, revised from an earlier government proposal, is expected to be enacted, possibly following a few minor modifications, by the end of the current Diet session on June 18. If passed, it will take effect Sept. 1, driving up medical bills for the insured by at least double.

However, some SDP members have said the bill should be amended again in the Upper House because revisions made in the Lower House were intended to accommodate proposals by the DPJ, which changed its stance on the legislation at the last minute. The increases in the public’s health burden under the revised bill are part of ongoing reform of the health insurance system to prevent it from going bankrupt.

Corporate workers who hold employee health insurance policies will have to pay 20 percent of their own medical bills, instead of the current 10 percent. Outpatients aged 70 and over will pay 500 yen every time they visit medical institutions, with the ceiling set at 2,000 yen per month. People in that age bracket are currently charged a fixed sum of 1,020 yen a month regardless how many times they visit hospitals or clinics. Daily hospitalization fees for people aged 70 and over will also rise from the current 710 yen to 1,000 yen in September. It will rise again to 1,100 yen next April and to 1,200 yen in fiscal 1999.