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In late May, a nurse in Miyagi Prefecture sent a letter to Kahoku Shimpo, complaining that she had to give up on helping administer coronavirus vaccines — despite a shortage of qualified medical workers — due to what is called the “¥1.3 million income hurdle.”

Under the current system, if a spouse earns less than ¥1.3 million a year, they can be exempt from pension premium payments and be covered by the main earner’s corporate pension plan. This means that spouses who earn ¥1.3 million or more need to pay for premiums for pension and health care.

The Miyagi nurse currently works as a part-timer below the ¥1.3 million income threshold as her husband’s dependent. And she is one of many part-time medical workers who has been unable to assist with the vaccine rollout because of the income cap.

Aware of the situation, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the nation’s vaccination rollout, said during a Diet session on May 10 that a temporary income bump from administering vaccines would not disqualify people from the pension premium exemption.

Delighted, the woman decided to help out with the vaccine rollout, only to be told by her husband’s workplace that she would be disqualified if her annual income exceeds ¥1.3 million.

It turned out that despite Kono’s remark, the central government did not issue a notice of the policy change in an official document, creating confusion between medical workers and corporate health care unions.

It was not until June 4 that the health ministry made an announcement of the policy change in line with Kono’s remark.

The exemption applies to doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, clinical laboratory technicians and paramedics who are engaged in vaccination work. Income earned from work related to injections, preliminary examinations and post-vaccination checkups from April through February next year will not count to the total used to assess exemptions from social welfare premium payments.

Anyone working as a receptionist at a vaccination venue or related medical facility, however, will not be covered by the policy change, even if the person has medical qualifications.

The Miyagi nurse felt relieved to learn that income from administering vaccinations will be deemed as an exception.

“I’d like to be of help if possible,” the woman said. “I’m sure there are more people in the same situation.”

This section features topics and issues from the Tohoku region covered by the Kahoku Shimpo, the largest newspaper in Tohoku. The original article was published June 5.

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