System has no family income restrictions and will address low birth rate, politicians hope.

Tokyo is made up of 23 special wards and roughly three dozen areas classified as cities, towns, or villages. The 23 wards are the most developed and centrally located, providing the closest access to schools, workplaces, and other necessary facilities, but that convenience comes with higher costs for housing and consumer goods prices.

Living in Tokyo’s 23 wards could become much less expensive soon, though, as starting next year medical bills for high school students and younger children will be free. The plan was announced by Takaaki Yamazaki, mayor of Koto Ward, following a conference of the special wards’ mayors on June 21.

From the start of the next fiscal year, Tokyo Metropolis (as Tokyo’s special wards, cities, towns, and villages are collectively called) will be starting a three-year program under which children through high school-age from households with applicably low incomes will be charged only 200 yen (US$1.50) per hospital visit. However, Yamazaki declared that the 23 wards have decided to go even further, and will be completely covering the medical expenses for high school students and younger children with no family income restrictions.

“This is being undertaken as a child-rearing support project by the 23 wards, a measure to address the declining birthrate,” said Yamazaki. “We reached this decision from the belief that in order to create a Tokyo in which it is easy to give birth and raise children, we should not place income restrictions on beneficiaries or ask them to personally pay medical bills.” The system is expected to go into operation next April.

Expanding the benefits to all families, regardless of income, in the 23 wards (which have a combined population of almost 9.4 million people) and waiving any self-payment requirements is estimated to increase the cost for the program by an additional 1.3 billion yen (roughly US$9.7 million). Yamazaki says the wards will be shouldering this extra expense, but also that he believes the central Tokyo Metropolitan government should take over the burden from 2026.

Sources: NHK News Web, FNN Prime Online
Top image: Pakutaso
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