In addition to the controversial ¥2 trillion cash handout, the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 passed by the Diet includes a budgetary measure, in force for two years, designed to enable pregnant women to undergo 14 checkups before delivery free of charge. (Fourteen checkups are thought to be necessary to ensure safe birth.) But the description “free” appears to be misleading.

Previously a budgetary measure covered just five checkups, posing quite a financial burden on some women. As a result some women have had to give birth without having had any checkups. It is risky for women near delivery not to be examined, yet this is the situation that obstetric clinics sometimes have had to face.

Under the new budgetary measure, local governments are expected to cover about 70 percent of the cost of the 14 checkups — estimated to total about ¥118,000 — mainly by using grant-in-aid from central government tax money. In turn, the central government will provide subsidies depending on the amount paid by the local governments.

But in a survey of some 570 municipalities across the nation, the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that public money does not cover all the checkup costs in many municipalities. The town of Daigo in Ibaraki Prefecture is the only municipality where public money covers the entire cost.

In about 40 percent of the municipalities, public money covers about 80 percent of the cost. This figure drops to about 70 percent in another 40 percent of the municipalities surveyed, and about 60 percent in the remaining 20 percent of municipalities. A different survey, conducted by Kyodo News, found has found that in other municipalities, the portion is as low as 10 percent.

Women should be able to have a safe pregnancy anywhere in the nation. The central government should make the free checkup system permanent and work together with local governments to ensure they have sufficient funds to cover the costs of the 14 examinations.

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