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Monday, Jan. 6, 2003

LIFELINES

Navigating Japan health insurance


Deciding which

I have lived in Japan and worked for the same company for six years. During this time the company has provided health insurance and paid all of the premiums. However, I will soon leave the company and thus lose my coverage.

I was planning on joining the national health insurance plan via my wife (a Japanese citizen). When I went to my local city hall, I was told that I could join the national plan without paying any dues, all I had to do was obtain a loss of insurance letter from my company.

However, the company would not provide me with one. Are they required to? Upon further investigation, the company provided me with insurance. But, it was basic traveler's insurance (a succession of one-year contracts). Even though the company paid all of the premiums and cost, I was told by city hall that this is not considered "proper" or "acceptable" insurance, meaning that now I have to pay two years worth of premiums before I can join the national plan.

Is my company doing something wrong? They never told me about the status of my insurance (that it is not proper) and that I had the option of joining the national plan a long time ago. In fact, they made it seem like there was no option other than to take their insurance. I feel I was misled.

Is there any way I can get out of paying the two years' worth of dues? -- Okayama Williams

Dear Okayama Williams; The law in Japan regarding insurance is a bit confusing. Your situation is a unique take on what for years has been a big problem.

Having, for a long time, sought and then won the right to equal treatment in matters of insurance, now many in the international community want to be let out of the system and allowed to have personal insurance.

Your company seems to have enrolled you in a form of "Travel Insurance," which covers you on a year to year basis. Technically, the companies are required to be a part of the National Insurance Program but when foreign workers are involved it does not seem to be so strictly enforced as long as you have some form of insurance.

Once in the system, it is impossible to get out, but if you have not enrolled, you can usually be exempted as long as you have equivalent insurance.

You basically have two options -- one is to enroll in the Japanese National Insurance program. This program has its advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage is its cost. It is based on a percentage of income so if you have a low income it is a very, very good deal. Of special concern to many is that there are no "pre-existing condition" requirements.

If, however, you have a large income, this system can be pricey.

The other option is to get your own private insurance. This is a good option, but there are concerns, including "pre-existing conditions" and, these days, the viability of the company.

One company that has been serving the community for years is Pacificstar Insurance, and it's a good place to start. Call Mr. Mine at (0484) 79-2317.

Ken Joseph Jr. directs The Japan Helpline on (0570) 000-911 or at www. jhelp. com Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp


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