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Ministry to seek 3 bil. yen in FY 2019 budget for struggling health insurance societies

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is set to request 3 billion yen in the fiscal 2019 state budget to help prop up health insurance societies covering employees of major companies and prevent them from disbanding.

If health insurance societies for employees of major businesses are disbanded, the policyholders will be transferred to the Japan Health Insurance Association, which is subsidized by the national government. The more such organizations are dissolved, the greater the financial burden the central government must bear to support the Japan Health Insurance Association.

With the budget allocation, the health ministry hopes to improve the financial conditions of at-risk health insurance societies, thereby preventing as many as possible from disbanding.

Health insurance organizations for employees of big companies, among others, rely solely on insurance premiums paid by their policyholders, since taxpayers' money is not injected into these organizations as a general rule.

According to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Health Insurance Societies, many of these societies have been forced to raise their premiums due to financial difficulties. The premium rates at over 20 percent of these societies are higher than the 10 percent average for the Japan Health Insurance Association, which employers and employees evenly shoulder.

Many of these organizations struggle financially, and nine of them disbanded in fiscal 2017. A health insurance society for employees of a cooperative decided to dissolve itself by the end of this fiscal year.

The number of health insurance societies for employees of major businesses, which stood at 1,518 in fiscal 2007, has decreased to 1,389 organizations in the current fiscal year. Many of these organizations have stopped subsidizing thorough medical checkups for their employees and providing counseling about health in a desperate effort to balance their budgets. If health insurance societies' strengths -- offering services to help policyholders prevent illnesses -- continue to decrease, it could lead to an increase in medical expenses.

Health insurance societies contribute nearly half of their income from premiums to support the medical care system for the elderly, which is one of the causes of their financial difficulties. However, the health ministry suspects that there are some societies that have problems in the way they manage their organizations.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering determining the amount of subsidies based on the estimated medical costs that societies are expected to shoulder at the beginning of each fiscal year. By extending such assistance, the ministry aims to give health insurance societies some leeway and thereby help them improve their health promotion services for policyholders. The ratio of subsidies to the medical costs will likely be around 10 percent.

The ministry will also require health insurance societies to submit their management plans. It will select health insurance societies subject to the assistance program by examining their premium rates, medical service expenses and the age composition of their policyholders.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Sakai, Medical Welfare News Department)

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