Cabinet OKs limiting health insurance coverage to Japan residents

The cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a bill Friday that will make the country's health insurance program for employees applicable only to workers and their dependents residing in the country to prevent abuse by people living overseas.
Japan is seeking to revise the system as it prepares to open up and accept more foreign workers from April. The planned revision is aimed at blocking the use of the national health insurance by foreigners who have never lived in Japan, including relatives of such incoming laborers.
The new insurance system is expected to take effect in April 2020, a year after Japan starts accepting more blue-collar foreign workers under a new visa program to tackle labor shortages in the rapidly aging country.
The current Japanese employee health insurance system covers workers' dependents living abroad, but authorities have faced difficulties in checking whether they are actually kin or financially dependent on the workers.
Medical workers have reported cases in which foreign nationals received expensive healthcare as family dependents of workers in Japan and had the costs partially covered by the Japanese insurance system, prompting some conservative lawmakers to call for a revision of the scheme.
As exceptions, the health ministry plans to introduce ordinances to allow Japanese health insurance coverage for those who are temporarily living overseas for study or work regardless of nationality.
The cabinet also approved a bill to amend legislation so that people could present national ID cards known as My Number cards in place of standard health insurance certificates of the state-run scheme. Japan plans to introduce the system from March 2021.
Through another law revision, the government also aims to link state medical and nursing care databases and provide anonymized information to users such as research organizations and drug makers for a fee.
In the face of an aging population and falling birthrate, the Japanese parliament passed a bill in December to attract foreign workers into its labor-hungry sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care.
It marked a major policy shift for the country, which had effectively granted working visas only to doctors, lawyers and others with professional knowledge and high skills.
The number of foreign workers in Japan has tripled over a decade to a record-high 1.46 million as of October, according to the labor ministry.
Under the new visa system, Japan will accept up to around 345,000 over the next five years.
Without taking into consideration the expected influx of foreign workers, a ministry panel forecast that the country's workforce could drop 20 percent by 2040 from 2017.

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