The House of Representatives approved a package of bills Thursday designed to limit the growth in spending on medical-care benefits as part of the government’s overall medical reforms.

The bills, supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito at a plenary session of the Lower House, will be sent to the Upper House for enactment during the current Diet session.

The bills call for increasing the financial burden on elderly patients and aim to reduce the number of patients with lifestyle-related diseases.

Specifically, the bills call for relatively wealthy people age 70 or older to directly pay 30 percent of their total medical fees when they receive treatment at medical institutions, starting in October. The current rate is 20 percent.

The 30 percent requirement would take effect if a married couple’s annual income is 5.2 million yen or more.

To help curb the number of victims of lifestyle-related diseases, including diabetes, the bill urges corporate medical insurance associations to conduct checkups not only on employees, but also on family members if they are 40 or older. Other types of medical insurance groups will be urged to take the same step.

The proportion of medical fees middle-income patients age 70 to 74 are required to pay at medical institutions will be raised to 20 percent from the current 10 percent, starting in fiscal 2008.

Long-term inpatients age 70 or older will also be required to pay all the costs of their meals and room charges, starting in October.

As part of medium- to long-term measures to trim spending on medical-care benefits starting from fiscal 2008, the government will work out a nationwide program aimed at curbing such expenses to appropriate levels.

Based on the state’s program, prefectures will map out their respective programs by setting numerical targets to reduce the number of days in hospitals and the ratio of patients suffering from lifestyle-related diseases.

In order to address the rapid aging of society, the government will abolish the current medical insurance program for elderly people in fiscal 2008 and introduce two new programs — one for those age 75 or older and the other for those age 65 to 74.

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