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The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering allowing patients of lifestyle-related diseases to claim national health insurance payments for fitness facilities used for therapeutic purposes, ministry sources said Wednesday.

The ministry’s Central Social Insurance Medical Council is discussing the introduction of a system for patients of such diseases as diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia that would cover the cost of therapeutic exercises such as bicycle pedaling and aqua walking conducted at government-designated facilities, the sources said.

At present, national health insurance only covers the cost of therapeutic exercises for certain diseases when prescribed by medical institutions.

Patients can only receive tax deductions when they use special facilities designated for therapeutic exercises. There are 132 such facilities nationwide, which have partnerships with medical institutions and special equipment makers.

The ministry plans to expand health insurance coverage to 330 health-promotion facilities nationwide, including the 132 therapeutic-exercise facilities.

The ministry is also considering extending insurance coverage to therapeutic exercises for patients, aged 70 and over, of lifestyle-related diseases, patients suffering cardiac disease and those being treated at large hospitals with more than 200 beds.

Currently, patients in these three categories cannot claim insurance for therapeutic exercises.

Japan has an estimated 7.2 million people suffering hypertension, 2.12 million diabetes patients, 1.85 million patients of cardiac disease and 1.14 million hyperlipidemia patients, according to a 1999 Health Ministry survey.

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