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Japan’s regulatory reform menu looks stale

  • May 24, 2017
  • , Nikkei Asian Review , 6:55 a.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received a lackluster list of regulatory reform proposals Tuesday covering areas such as social security and labor, with many of the measures lacking ambition or specifics.


The report from the cabinet’s Regulatory Reform Promotion Council contained 141 proposals. Abe said many reforms are needed “so the Japanese economy can be sure to open the door to tomorrow.”


The list contained some bright spots, such as trimming administrative costs and letting the private sector handle some of the work of labor standards inspection offices, which oversee working conditions. But on the whole, it offered little in the way of fresh ideas. Some measures, such as lower prices for agricultural production materials, were already decided during talks last fall.


The report also put off concrete actions in many areas. On rules for “limited regular employment” — a category between full-fledged employees and nonregular workers such as temporary staff — the council offered only vague language about studying possibilities including new legislation.


It was similarly reticent about a database of real estate registration information, which the council had discussed making freely accessible online. The report now says simply that the government should consider how the data should be provided to the public, including free access as a possibility.


A section on mixed-billing nursing care lacked detail as well. Japan’s public nursing-care insurance program pays the bulk of the cost for covered services. Beneficiaries are permitted to supplement these with care not covered by public insurance, a practice referred to as mixed billing.


Japan’s Fair Trade Commission has called for measures to improve flexibility to promote broader use of mixed-billing care. But the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has taken a more cautious stance, arguing that a clear line must be drawn between services that are covered by public insurance and those that are not.


The report only recommended the creation of a technical advisory document that will offer a clear overall picture of the current rules to allow for the flexible combination of covered and non-covered services. Though the council initially called for the welfare ministry to devise guidelines for nursing-care service providers this year, the report included no specific measures. If the technical advisory turns out to lack punch, it will do little to encourage mixed billing.


The council report also indicates little sense of urgency on the issue, saying steps will be taken in the first half of 2018. Tokyo’s Toshima Ward will convene an expert panel on mixed care June 2 with an eye toward taking action under the national strategic special zone scheme, which allows for bold deregulation over a small area.


As discussion of nationwide reform treads water, the hope is that special zones will allow pioneering projects to take the lead. But the council, tasked with winning over opponents by making the case for reform, likely will need to show it can drill through regulatory bedrock as well.

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