Health ministry reviews ceiling of medical subsidy for A-bomb survivors living abroad

by Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

On November 1, Health and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura announced a change in ministry policy which will raise the ceiling for medical subsidies to A-bomb survivors living outside Japan from the current cap of roughly 180,000 yen a year. This change stems from a ruling by the Osaka District Court which declared that the section of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law which stipulates that all medical expenses are eligible for reimbursement must also apply to A-bomb survivors residing in other nations. The Japanese government will respond to the court ruling by reviewing the current subsidy system for survivors outside Japan, rather than revising the law itself. Concrete measures to address the issue will be formulated by the end of the year.

Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui, named a defendant in the case, welcomed the policy change by the Health Ministry, pointing out, “If we are to accept the ruling, the central government must revise the law, which will prolong the process of giving relief to these survivors.” The Osaka prefectural government therefore appealed to the Osaka High Court on the same day. Meanwhile, lawyers for the plaintiffs, whose claim for compensation from the central government was turned down by the district court, held a press conference in Osaka and expressed their intention to contest the court’s ruling.

The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law stipulates that A-bomb survivors who receive medical treatment at designated medical institutions in Japan are fully reimbursed for their expenses. When survivors, by necessity, receive treatment outside of these designated facilities, the law states that a subsidy then applies.

The Health Ministry, however, has been excluding A-bomb survivors living outside Japan from the provisions of the law. Instead, citing “systems in other nations, including the healthcare insurance system, that are different from those of Japan,” a different system for medical subsidies was introduced for survivors overseas. For this reason, the disparity in relief measures between A-bomb survivors in Japan and A-bomb survivors abroad has become an issue.

The Health Ministry will also consider scenarios in which medical expenses exceed the higher ceiling. If survivors submit documents which clarify the content of their medical care, such as receipts for medical fees, the ministry plans to subsidize these expenses based on the same standard that applies to survivors in Japan who would receive the equivalent treatment.

At the press conference, Mr. Tamura, the health and welfare minister, stressed that “The ministry is seeking a solution that will satisfy all A-bomb survivors residing outside Japan.” Referring to the fact that it is difficult for survivors to obtain necessary documents in some countries or regions, Mr. Tamura said that the system will be reviewed with user-friendliness in mind.

According to the ministry, the number of A-bomb survivors living outside Japan is approximately 4,450, as of March 2013. About 3,100 survivors made use of the system in fiscal 2012, an outlay of roughly 400 million yen in total. About 950 survivors, about 30 percent, exceeded the ministry’s ceiling in their medical expenses.

On October 25, one day after the ruling, Osaka Governor Matsui said that he would not appeal, but then later shifted his stance, implying that he might appeal to the high court if the Japanese government expresses its intention of establishing a new subsidy system at an early date.

(Originally published on November 2, 2013)