National

Health insurance law revised to limit coverage to Japan residents

Kyodo

The Diet enacted a legislative revision Wednesday to make the national health insurance program largely applicable only to workers and their dependents residing in Japan.

The revision to the health insurance law is aimed at blocking use of the system by foreigners who have never lived in Japan, including relatives of soon-to-arrive laborers, as the country starts to accept more foreign workers to tackle labor shortages in the rapidly aging country.

If non-working spouses of public pension recipients living in Japan also wish to receive a spousal pension, the revised law now specifies that they too must reside within Japan.

Wednesday’s amendment covers eight sets of laws related to the social security system, mainly in the field of medical services.

Japan’s previous employee health insurance system offered cover for workers’ dependents living abroad, but authorities had faced difficulties in checking whether they were actually kin, or financially dependent, on the workers.

If children in the families of those residing in Japan and registered for insurance are temporarily overseas for study or work, they will continue to be eligible for health insurance coverage regardless of nationality. The health ministry will introduce ordinances to stipulate who can access such exceptions.

The revised law also enables people to present national ID cards, known as My Number cards, in place of the standard health insurance certificates issued by the state-run program.

The government aims to link state medical and nursing care databases and provide anonymized information to research organizations and drugmakers, among others, for a fee.

As it faces a graying population and falling birthrate, Japan has introduced a new visa system starting last month to attract foreign workers into labor-hungry sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care.

The move marked a major policy shift for the country, which had in the past effectively granted working visas only to doctors, lawyers and other highly skilled people with professional experience.