Overseas families of foreigners set to lose health benefits

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are considering in principle excluding coverage under the public health insurance system for the family members of foreign nationals working in Japan that remain in their home countries, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The proposal is in preparation for the government’s efforts to expand the number of foreign workers in Japan that it aims to start in April next year.

To realize the exclusion of the family members, they will promote discussions for submitting a bill to revise the Health Insurance Law in the ordinary Diet session next year, according to sources.

The move is aimed at decreasing fiscal pressure on the public insurance system by revising a mechanism in which Japan assumes the burden of medical fees for Japan-based foreign nationals’ family members living overseas. It is also expected to resolve the sense of unfairness felt by Japanese workers.

The number of foreign nationals working in Japan was about 1.28 million as of the end of October last year, according to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey.

Under the current system, third-degree or closer relatives — including children and grandchildren — of foreign workers at large firms who are covered by health insurance societies, or those at small and midsize firms covered by the Japan Health Insurance Association, can be considered dependents even if they do not live in Japan.

Recognized dependents are able to receive coverage under Japan’s health insurance system. Even if dependents outside of Japan use medical institutions in their home countries, their medical fees, excluding a personal contribution, are paid by the health insurance societies or the association to which the foreign workers pay premiums.

The government and the LDP judged it necessary to revise the current system, taking into account the expansion of foreign workers in the country.

However, to avoid criticism against possible discriminatory treatment toward foreign nationals, the government and the LDP are also considering excluding the dependants of Japanese workers from the health insurance system if they are based overseas and there is no actual life in Japan.

Whether to exclude the dependents of Japanese nationals who live overseas temporarily for studies or employment will be a focal point of the discussion. The dependents of Japanese nationals who stay overseas temporarily for such reasons as expatriate employees would likely continue to be treated under the system.

The government has submitted to the current Diet session a bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, aiming to establish a new residence status for foreign workers with specific skills in April 2019.

As the category 1 status, which allows foreign workers to stay in Japan for up to five years, does not permit family members to accompany workers to Japan, the number of dependents of foreign workers who are left in their countries is expected to increase under the existing system.

It has been pointed out that some foreigners come to Japan and subscribe to health insurance policies for the purpose of reducing the burden of expensive medical fees in their home countries.

To address the issue, an LDP working panel on medical treatment for foreign nationals living in Japan is discussing countermeasures. The government intends to work on a detailed design in cooperation with the LDP.Speech

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