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Gov't to revise health insurance system to prevent misuse by both Japanese, foreign workers

The government said Wednesday it aims to revise Japan's public insurance system to address concerns that healthcare costs would surge when it opens up to more foreign workers from next spring.
"There are people who are actually using the (public health insurance system) in a way it was not intended for," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an upper house committee. "We would like to create a system in which it can properly deal with the issue."
His remarks were made a day after informed sources said Japan is set to revise its public health insurance system and apply stricter rules for its coverage to prevent abusive use by both Japanese and foreign workers.
The government aims to start accepting more blue-collar foreign workers by revising the immigration laws during the ongoing Diet session through Dec 10, and introducing the new immigration program in April amid labor shortages.
Japan's national health insurance system, which covers medical expenses by not only corporate workers but also their kin, currently does not require the kin -- including great-grandparents and grandchildren financially supported by the workers -- to be living in Japan.
The government plans to submit bills to the Diet next year to amend relevant laws and require a person to be living in Japan to be covered by the system.
As of October last year, the number of foreign workers in Japan stood at a record 1.28 million, doubling from 680,000 in 2012, with Chinese making up the largest group of around 370,000, followed by Vietnamese and Filipinos, according to the labor ministry.
After the immigration laws are revised, the government plans to accept around 40,000 workers in the first year from April, and eventually allow in hundreds of thousands of additional laborers from abroad, according to government sources.
Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita said Wednesday the country will compile by year-end "comprehensive measures" to accept more foreign laborers.
Japan plans to create two types of residence status for non-Japanese workers in 14 sectors deemed to have serious labor shortages, ranging from construction and farming to nursing care, due to Japan's rapidly aging population and low birthrate for decades.
The move marks a major policy shift for Japan, which has largely restricted imported labor until now. The country has mainly accepted highly-skilled professionals in such fields as medicine and law, while taking in only a tiny number of refugees.
Japan is considering accepting more Asian refugees who are under protection in neighboring countries from 2020, with an eye to doubling the current annual ceiling of around 30.
Yamashita explained at a Diet committee the government has no intention of setting an upper limit on the number of foreign workers to be accepted under the new system, although he said he plans to halt the influx of foreign workers in sectors where a labor shortage has been resolved.


© KYODO
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