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The health ministry hammered out a plan on Thursday to promote efforts to establish medical care systems capable of dealing with COVID-19 and other emerging infectious diseases.

In a draft basic policy for its medical fee revision for fiscal 2022, which starts in April, the ministry said that the establishment of such systems is a key task, adding that it will boost medical fees for efforts to admit more patients and strengthen coordination among medical institutions.

The draft was approved the same day by two subcommittees of the Social Security Council, which advises the health minister.

The fiscal 2022 medical fee revision will be the first full-scale overhaul since the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the draft, the ministry vowed to ensure medical care systems for sufficient outpatient care and hospitalization services, saying, “It is important to continue to make full efforts to address the novel coronavirus.”

Under the revised system, the ministry plans for medical fees to reflect the evaluation of each medical institutions’ efforts to effectively prepare for an outbreak of a new infectious disease across their respective regions.

When deciding medical fees, the ministry will also take into account pay hikes for nurses, reform of doctors’ work styles and efforts to promote infertility treatment. These measures were included in a package of economic stimulus measures endorsed at a Cabinet meeting last month.

The government will fix the fiscal 2022 revision rate for overall medical fees by the end of this month.

From next month, the Central Social Insurance Medical Council, which advises the health minister, is scheduled to discuss the scope of insurance coverage for individual medical practices and the specific levels of medical fees.

Meanwhile, sources said Friday that the government plans to raise the proportion of out-of-pocket medical expenses borne by some people aged 75 or over from the current 10% to 20% in October 2022.

Currently, the share stands at 10% in principle and 30% for people with relatively large incomes, such as those who live alone and earn ¥3.83 million or more a year.

Under the government plan, the share will be raised to 20% for people living alone and earning at least ¥2 million a year and for couples with a total annual income of ¥3.2 million or more, while measures to cushion the impacts of the hike will be implemented for three years after the change takes effect.

But sources said that the timing of the hike could be fluid, as some ruling-bloc lawmakers may voice caution over the higher financial burden ahead of next summer’s election for the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of Japan’s parliament, known as the Diet.

The Diet enacted medical system reform legislation in June, calling for the hike to be made sometime between October 2022 and March 2023.

The planned reform is designed to cut public spending and slash the burden on working generations to maintain equality among generations.

As the heavier medical fee burden could make older people reluctant to go to doctors, the government will take steps to prevent them from developing serious symptoms.

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