Japan weighs incentivizing childbirth by fully covering expenses

Tokyo, 22 May, /AJMEDIA/

The Japanese government is considering fully covering expenses for child delivery under the public medical insurance system from fiscal 2026, in its latest effort to battle declining births, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

Under the medical insurance system in Japan, people basically pay 10 to 30 percent of medical costs out of pocket when they receive treatment for illness and injuries. Normal deliveries, excluding cases like cesarean sections, are not considered illnesses and therefore not covered.

However, a plan has emerged to create a new framework within the system to cover childbirth expenses without any out-of-pocket payments.

Since medical institutions can set their own prices for normal deliveries, childbirth costs in the country have largely differed among prefectures, with the national average standing at around 503,000 yen as of May 2023.

Government data from fiscal 2022 showed that childbirth was most expensive in Tokyo, averaging 605,000 yen, and cheapest in Kumamoto Prefecture in southwestern Japan, at 361,000 yen.

If childbirth becomes qualified for the public coverage, a unified price will be set nationwide.

The government currently provides a lump-sum payment of 500,000 yen for each childbirth, increased from 420,000 yen in April 2023 as delivery costs have been on the rise amid inflation and increased expenses related to medical staff.

If normal delivery becomes covered, the current lump-sum childbirth allowance will likely end, which may disappoint households who could have benefited from extra income if delivery costs were below 500,000 yen.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Children and Families Agency will set up an expert panel possibly next month to delve into issues including defining the scope of normal delivery to be covered by insurance, the sources said.

People will likely have to pay out of pocket if the insurance coverage of normal delivery excludes painless labor and extra services like staying in private rooms.

The panel is expected to be joined by professionals from medical institutions and people who can represent expecting mothers and the child-rearing generation, among others, according to the sources.


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