The government is considering requiring dependent families of foreign residents in Japan to live in the country as a condition for giving these families access to public health insurance coverage, those familiar with the matter have disclosed.
The move comes as the government aims to accept more foreign workers to make up for chronic workforce shortages. Specifically, the government plans to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to create two new residency statuses for workers with certain knowledge and experience, and for those in jobs requiring special expertise, reports The Mainichi.
Currently, the medical expenses of foreign residents' dependent family members who live overseas are covered by the foreign residents' public health insurance. The executive branch of the government will submit a Bill to revise the Health Insurance Act to make the change.
There are two types of health insurance programmes for company employees—those managed by individual major companies, and those operated by the Japan Health Insurance Association for employees of smaller businesses. These health insurance programmes cover the policyholder's dependent family members up to the third degree of kinship. Family members living outside Japan are covered if they meet certain conditions, such as that they live on money sent by the policyholders.
As the government aims to expand Japan's acceptance of foreign workers in April 2019, ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators have expressed concerns that Japan could be forced to shoulder an extra financial burden by having to pay the medical costs of foreign workers' dependent families living outside Japan.
Specifically, concerns have been voiced that some foreign residents could abuse the system by falsely registering non-relatives as their dependents, for example. This prompted the ministry to examine various health insurance associations' recognition of policyholders' dependents this past March. However, no such illegal practices were found.
More than 1.27m foreigners were working in Japan as of October 2017. Up to about 40,000 foreign workers will come to Japan under new residency statuses in the fiscal year starting 1 April 2019.
The medical costs of policyholders' dependents living or temporarily staying overseas, which health insurance associations shouldered in fiscal 2016, totaled roughly JPY2bn ($17.7m). This represented 0.02% of those associations' total costs for medical coverage in the same fiscal year.