Hoping to drive a wedge into the ruling coalition, four opposition parties submitted a bill Wednesday to freeze a planned 50 percent increase in the fees salaried workers pay for outpatient medical care.

Lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party submitted the bill aimed at preserving the current health insurance law to the House of Representatives.

The ruling coalition hopes to increase the share of outpatient medical costs that workers must pay to 30 percent from 20 percent beginning April 1.

The lawmakers also demanded that the bill be voted on in the open. But the Liberal Democratic Party immediately opposed this, favoring the anonymous vote system.

“An open vote is unnecessary,” LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki told a news conference.

Many ruling coalition lawmakers have been pressured by influential support groups to freeze the increase, given the ongoing economic stagnation. One of the most vocal opponents to the increase is the powerful Japan Medical Association, a nationwide organization of physicians.

According to Yamasaki, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a meeting earlier in the day he is ” determined to carry out” the planned increase.

The four opposition parties have recently stepped up joint efforts to fight the ruling camp, preparing for a possible dissolution of the Lower House and snap election sometime this year.

“The ruling parties are now trying to only raise costs to be shouldered by the public without fundamental reforms of the medical system,” DPJ policy chief Yukio Edano told a news conference. “It will dampen consumer confidence during this economic slump.”

Some opposition party executives meanwhile said the government probably won’t halt the planned increase because it would require a revision of the fiscal 2003 budget. , which has already been submitted to the Diet, an act that would force the ruling camp to lose face.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said the government will increase the salaried workers’ share beginning in fiscal 2003 as planned.

“We must have (salaried workers) shoulder their burden,” he said. “We have no choice but to ask them to do so.”

The increase is necessary, he said, because the government and people must work together in this time of economic difficulty.

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