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The health ministry will expand the coverage of public health insurance to include the cost of artificial insemination for infertile couples in an effort to combat Japan’s falling birthrate, government sources said Friday.

The change, which is expected to be included in the ministry’s fiscal 2007 budget request, will expand insurance coverage for fertility treatments and make higher income couples eligible for fertility treatment subsidies.

Public health insurance does not currently cover the cost of in vitro fertilization for those who have difficulty conceiving a child. Under the new rules, the government will cover some of those costs.

A single artificial insemination treatment can cost 300,000 yen to 400,000 yen. The government, under a program begun in fiscal 2004, provides couples with an annual income of no more than 6.5 million yen a 100,000 yen subsidy per year for fertility treatments for up to five years.

The central government pays half the cost of the subsidy, with prefectural and municipal governments picking up the rest. A total of 880 million yen in fertility treatment subsidies were handed out in fiscal 2004.

According to an estimate by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in fiscal 2002, 466,900 couples in Japan were undergoing fertility treatments.

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