Upper House passes bill to double medical fees

A much-debated bill that will more than double medical costs for the public from Sept. 1 cleared the Upper House on June 13, supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake.

The Taiyo Party, a splinter group of Shinshinto, also joined the ruling alliance to endorse the bill. Heiseikai, consisting of Shinshinto and Komei, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party voted against it. The legislation, revised twice from the original government-proposed bill, was immediately sent back to the Lower House.

The ruling bloc hopes to have the bill passed by the Lower House at a plenary session June 16, just before the Diet session ends on June 18, enabling the government to begin at least doubling outpatient medical bills from September. Since the bill was amended for the second time at the Upper House after it was revised for the first time at the Lower House, the final legislation must be again endorsed by the Lower House.

The second amendment, which came after long and repeated discussions between the LDP and its two smaller allies, was created in an effort to reduce the financial burden on the public relating to prescription drugs. Under the amendment, there would be no additional charges for prescription drugs for children aged 6 and under and people aged 70 and over with low incomes. The provision of the exemption was included in response to strong demands from the SDP.