Seizures rising over unpaid health insurance premiums

Municipal governments increasingly are seizing assets of individuals who are behind in their national health insurance premium payments, an Asahi Shimbun survey shows.

The survey showed such asset seizures rose an average 1.7-fold from fiscal 2001 to 2005 in the nation’s 15 largest cities and Tokyo’s 23 wards.

National health insurance programs cover self-employed people, farmers, job-hopping “freeters,” retirees and the unemployed. They are administered by municipal governments.

Health insurance programs are in the red in 64 percent of municipalities nationwide.

Legal action taken against delinquents, including seizures of bank accounts and properties, has risen as the collection ratio has fallen.

The collection rate has dropped to close to 90 percent nationwide on average and is hovering below 90 percent in large cities.

Health ministry statistics also showed that seizures of assets from nonpayers rose from 44,112 cases worth 15.6 billion yen in fiscal 2001 to 68,488 cases worth 24.5 billion yen in fiscal 2004.

Municipalities resorting to assets seizures jumped from 39 percent nationwide to 55 percent in the same period.

But some local entities remain cautious about taking such forcible steps because national health insurance typically covers more low-income earners than other programs, such as for salaried workers.

The ratio of self-employed people and those working in farming, forestry and fisheries fell to 21 percent of those in the insurance program in fiscal 2004, from about 70 percent 40 years earlier.

In contrast, the ratio of unemployed people jumped from less than 10 percent to 52 percent over the same period.