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A Japanese health ministry advisory panel began full-fledged discussions Wednesday on covering fertility treatment under the country’s public health insurance program.

The Central Social Insurance Medical Council is expected to reach a conclusion on the issue as early as this year, based on guidelines drawn up by the Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine in June.

The results are set to be reflected in the fiscal 2022 revision of fees paid by the government’s medical insurance system.

Insurance coverage for fertility treatment was one of former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s key policies for tackle the declining birthrate, and the government hopes to launch the initiative next April.

The council is expected to debate how far to apply insurance coverage, as treatment methods and medications vary according to the age of women seeking treatment, their physical condition and the age of their partners.

The health ministry presented several issues for discussion, including how to define patients, whether to set limits on age and the number of treatments, and whether to cover pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or tests for genetic defects in fertilized eggs.

In hearings with organizations related to fertility treatment, some expressed concerns over the possible inability to offer high-quality assisted reproductive technology if medical fees are set low.

Others called for keeping in place the subsidy system for fertility treatment and for promoting social understanding for the treatment.

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