National

Japan looks to crack down on abuse of health insurance system as it plans for foreign worker influx

Kyodo

Japan’s justice minister said Wednesday the country will draw up “comprehensive measures” by the end of the year for welcoming more foreign nationals as the country aims to open up to blue-collar overseas workers from next spring amid a severe labor crunch.

Takashi Yamashita said the measures will not only cover new visa statuses to expand the types of foreign workers the country accepts, but also steps covering foreign nationals in the country in general.

His remarks came a day after government sources said Japan is set to revise its public health insurance system and apply stricter rules for its coverage to prevent abuse mainly by foreigners.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said on Wednesday that the government “will create a system in which it can properly deal with” the existing problems over the use of the insurance system, which caps an insured person’s monthly payment of medical bills depending on age and income.

The social welfare system offers services to a user regardless of his or her nationality. The insurance, which covers medical expenses of not only corporate workers but also their family members, currently does not require the kin — including great-grandparents and grandchildren financially supported by the workers — to be living in Japan.

The government is planning to submit bills to the Diet next year to amend laws relevant to the insurance system, although it is unlikely to be revised in time for the new immigration program that could take effect in April.

The planned revision is aimed at blocking the use of the insurance system by people who have never lived in Japan, including family members of incoming foreign laborers.

Cases have been reported in which nonresident relatives had their medical expenses in other countries reimbursed under the Japanese system, the sources said.

Similarly, the kin of Japanese workers will also be required to live in Japan in order to be covered by the system after the revision, the sources said. But the government is considering making exceptions for the kin of Japanese who are temporarily living abroad for studies or work.

The government plans to accept around 40,000 workers in the first year of the new visa system from April, and it eventually envisions bringing in hundreds of thousands of additional laborers from abroad, government sources have said.

Yamashita told a Diet committee that the government has no intention of setting an upper limit on the number of foreign workers to be accepted under the new system, although he said he plans to halt the influx in sectors where labor shortage are resolved.

As of October last year, the number of foreign workers in Japan stood at a record 1.28 million, doubling from 680,000 in 2012, with Chinese making up the largest group of around 370,000, followed by Vietnamese and Filipinos, according to the labor ministry.