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The government plans to raise the main portion of medical fees by 0.43% in its revisions for fiscal 2022, to cover labor costs for doctors and nurses, sources said Sunday.

The increase will be the eighth straight hike of the main component of the fees.

At the same time, the government plans to lower official drug prices, the sources said. As a result, the country’s overall medical fees are expected to be reduced.

The government apparently hopes to avoid having citizens shoulder a greater burden due to a fee hike at a time when they are already suffering amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Medical fees are covered by tax revenue, health insurance premiums and patients’ out-of-pocket spending, and are reviewed every two years.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and health minister Shigeyuki Goto at the prime minister’s official residence to discuss the fiscal 2022 revision of medical fees, a key focus in the government’s compilation of its budget for the fiscal year starting next April.

The government will formally decide on its revision to the fees Wednesday.

Based on results released earlier this month of a survey comparing market prices of drugs and state-set official prices, the government is considering cutting the official drug prices by around 1.3%, the sources said.

The planned increase in the main portion of the fees reflects the government’s aim to improve working conditions for nurses, as well as the start of insurance coverage for fertility treatment in fiscal 2022. But the size of the hike will be smaller than the 0.55% increase seen in the previous revision, in fiscal 2020, due in part to efforts to improve the effectiveness with which medical human resources are deployed.

The Japan Medical Association has requested a major increase in the main portion of medical fees, claiming that many medical institutions are in financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, the Finance Ministry has requested a cut in the main portion of the fees, from the perspective of curbing medical bills.

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