The ruling coalition rammed a set of medical reform bills through a House of Representatives committee meeting Friday, laying the groundwork for an increase in the ratio of medical expenses paid by salaried workers.

Under the bills, workers would be required to pay 30 percent of their medical expenses, up from the current 20 percent, beginning April 2003.

However, the Health, Labor and Welfare Committee was in disarray as ruling bloc members stood up to show their support for the bills while protesting opposition members tussled with committee chairman Eisuke Mori.

The opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Japanese Communist Party — boycotted Friday’s committee deliberations, but their members flooded into the chamber and jeered as ruling party lawmakers asked their final questions to health minister Chikara Sakaguchi before the vote.

The medical reform bills are among a set of bills the government and ruling coalition are hoping will clear the legislature during the current Diet session, which ends Wednesday. The triumvirate hopes to have the bills enacted by extending the session.

The opposition is refusing to take part in Diet proceedings, protesting alleged interference by top ruling bloc officials in the release of an investigative Defense Agency report on the alleged compilation of personal data on people who sought information from it under the information disclosure law.

Although the ruling bloc hopes to have the medical reform bills clear the Lower House plenary session Tuesday before their eventual enactment, the protracted clash between the ruling and opposition camps — exacerbated by Friday’s railroading of the medical bills — places the Diet schedule on uncertain ground.

However, the opposition has said it will take part in Diet proceedings necessary in paving the way for the arrest of scandal-tainted Lower House lawmaker Muneo Suzuki. According to investigative sources, Suzuki is being probed in connection with allegations that he received bribes.

The hike in the ratio of medical costs shouldered by salaried workers would follow a similar rise in 1997, when the government jacked up the figure to 20 percent from 10 percent.

The government also plans to raise premiums for the state-run health insurance program, designed for workers at smaller firms, to 8.2 percent from 7.5 percent on an annual income basis.

The revisions would also have people aged 70 or older pay 10 percent of their medical costs beginning in October. Those with higher incomes will be required to pay 20 percent.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi criticized the opposition for boycotting the vote, and stressed his determination to have the bills enacted during the current session.

Meanwhile, Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, defended the coalition’s actions, saying it was natural that the bills be put to a vote as the committee took sufficient time to debate them.

Later in the day, the four major opposition parties jointly protested the ruling bloc’s move, and vowed to do their utmost to scrap the medical reform bills.

Tadayoshi Ichida, chief of the JCP Secretariat, said, “The fact that the Koizumi Cabinet railroaded the bill shows how the administration is turning its back on the voices of the public.”

“The move showed that Koizumi, who said he will ‘smash’ the LDP, is actually smashing the lives of the people,” added Mizuho Fukushima, secretary general of the SDP.

Voices of criticism mounted even from within the LDP over the poor management of Diet affairs by the party leadership. “(The LDP-led coalition) seems to be lacking a commander,” said former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka during the day’s meeting of the party’s Executive Council. “Public sentiment toward politics may go beyond distrust to disgust (if such Diet management continues).”

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