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The Liberal Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake on Aug. 19 refused a government-proposed plan to impose a much greater share of medical bills on the public. The plan would require the health insurance system’s policyholders to shoulder 30 percent of their medical bills, up from the current 10 percent, starting in fiscal 1999.

Yuya Niwa, an LDP lawmaker and the head of the tripartite ruling bloc’s panel on health insurance reform, said that the increase — proposed earlier this month by the Health and Welfare Ministry — is far from acceptable.

“An increase in the public’s burden like that, if necessary, should be considered only after a comprehensive reform of the current debt-generating health insurance system is realized,” Niwa told reporters after a panel meeting.

The panel expressed strong opposition to the planned increase, especially in light of the Diet’s June approval of increasing the policyholder burden to 20 percent beginning Sept. 1.

The health ministry’s proposed program also would oblige outpatients 70 or older to pay between 10 percent and 20 percent of their medical bills instead of the current fixed sum of 1,020 yen per month regardless of the number of hospital visits.

Under the revised health insurance system that will take effect on Sept. 1, elderly outpatients will be required to pay 500 yen per hospital visit but not more than 2,000 yen per month.

Niwa said that the panel will seek comprehensive reform through reviews of the medical-payment system and government-mandated pricing for prescription drugs.

Mandated prices for prescription drugs have long been under fire for encouraging hospitals to over-prescribe medicine since the hospitals often purchase drugs below the mandated prices and profit from the difference.

In addition, Niwa, a former health minister, proposed that a new health insurance system covering only those 70 and over should be considered now that medical costs for people in the age bracket are skyrocketing as the nation rapidly grays.

The ruling bloc’s panel is scheduled to compile a comprehensive reform plan by the end of this month — before the policyholder burden rises to 20 percent.

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