A package of bills to reform the nation's public health insurance system has been tabled in the Diet. The system — backed by health insurance schemes covering corporate employees and public servants, and the national health insurance program mainly for the self-employed, pensioners and the unemployed — ensures that anybody can get treated at any medical institution if a health insurance certificate is presented. Japan's system of universal health care is rare in the world and government officials from other countries come here to study it.

But the sustainability of the system has been thrown in doubt because the graying of Japan's population has sharply pushed up the nation's total medical costs, which reached ¥39.2 trillion as of fiscal 2012, a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year and the equivalent of 8.3 percent of Japan's gross domestic product.

In this sense, the first major overhaul of the system since 2006 is unavoidable. But the national government needs to provide sufficient support to prefectural governments, which will be tasked to play a larger role in maintaining the program, to make sure that the system does not collapse.