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A bill to revise the National Health Insurance Law was passed on Friday, paving the way for all children aged 15 or under to receive health insurance even if their parents fall behind on premium payments.

The House of Councillors plenary session unanimously approved the revision on Friday. The amendment, which will take effect on April 1 next year, is aimed at helping some 33,000 children of junior high school age or under who have been left without health insurance coverage due to their parents’ failure to pay national health insurance premiums.

The problem of the large number of children without health insurance coverage came to light in a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare earlier this year.

Under the revised law, municipal governments will be obliged to issue short-term health insurance cards, valid for six months, to all children under compulsory education age, even if their parents fail to pay national health insurance premiums.Under the current law, the issuing of health insurance cards is decided on a household by household basis. Those that failed to pay national health insurance premiums for one year or more have to return their health insurance cards and are not covered by the insurance. This resulted in a large number of children left without national health insurance coverage across the nation.

The revised law will relax the principle of deciding on coverage on a household basis and will not deprive children under the compulsory education age of national health insurance coverage even if their parents fail to pay premiums.

At the same time, the amendment asks municipal governments to take “necessary measures” to secure payment of national health insurance premiums from households that are behind so that the revised law would not encourage households to not make payments.

Both the ruling and opposition parties moved swiftly to support the amendment and had agreed to revise the law during the current Diet session.

Three opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party — submitted their own revision bill to the Diet on Nov. 27, seeking to issue national health insurance cards to all children under age 18. While the ruling parties sought to cover those of junior high school age or younger with short-term national health insurance cards.

Although the amendment is slated to take effect next spring, many municipalities, including Osaka and Sapporo, have already started providing health insurance coverage for all children of junior high school age or younger.

“Once the Year End and the New Year period starts, children (without insurance coverage) will get into trouble,” said a representative of the Morioka Municipal Government in Iwate Prefecture. Source