Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet on Feb. 15 approved changes to health insurance programs for foreign workers with a new work visa status that include limiting coverage to only family members residing in Japan.

The amended Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, scheduled to take effect in April, will eventually allow in hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in 14 specific business sectors.

A bill to revise the Health Insurance Law will be submitted to the current Diet session, and the government is seeking to enact the revised law from April 2020. The change will cover all company employees regardless of nationality, meaning Japanese workers can only use the program for family members who reside in Japan.

Currently, spouses and children of the insured company employee who live abroad can use the health insurance program under certain conditions. They are also eligible to use the program that sets a maximum out-of-pocket burden on the insured for extremely costly treatments that are covered.

The new condition to cover only family members living in Japan was included due to concerns that health insurance costs would soar if dependent family members of workers who come to Japan from April 2019 were also covered even as they remained in the worker's native land.

Another change will occur in the national health insurance program that covers foreign students and entrepreneurs who operate businesses in Japan. The Abe Cabinet approved a revision to the National Health Insurance Law that would strengthen measures to prevent abuse of the program by those who come to Japan under false pretenses for the sole purpose of obtaining medical care.

Under the proposed change, municipal governments will have greater authority to investigate suspicious cases. Local government workers handling the national health insurance program would be allowed to confirm with the school the foreign student is attending or companies that do business with the entrepreneur's company to verify that the foreigners are in Japan legitimately.

The bill to revise the National Health Insurance Law will also be submitted to the current Diet session.