Ron Kessler’s Free Choice Foundation still at it. Repeal of Guideline Eight changes nothing.

Japan Today reports that Japanese Immigration has officially “deleted” Guideline Eight. This was the visa renewal guideline that got so many people upset last year, when it looked like people who did not enroll in the Japanese national health insurance and pension, or an employer-based equivalent, would not have their visas renewed.

The joke is that Guideline Eight was never an actual rule about being enrolled in these programs. The real rule is in the labor and health statutes. The guideline was only to make sure that people who were granted the right to be in Japan were following the law.

The counterargument was that since the law is weakly enforced among the general population, it wasn’t fair to tie the visa to enrollment and compliance.

Sometime late last year, the Immigration bureau already said that they would not enforce the guideline. So “deleting” the guideline is no great news. Even more, everyone in Japan on a visa is still subject to the same rules as the Japanese. They weren’t going to kick you out of the country if you didn’t have the insurance—otherwise, there would go the premium money too, right?

But, what is likely to happen is that people who can’t produce an insurance card on renewal (they still will be asking for this) probably go on a list for follow-up. So that the real enforcer of the rule (the Labor and Health Ministry) can get on the ball.

This is seeing around the corner, folks.

Notice that the Japan Times, having been clued in about the connection between Ron Kessler and the private gap-insurer “Health One” isn’t even running this non-story. That’s why they had to go over to Kyodo and/or Japan Today. [Update: Japan Times subsequently did run something, I later learned, but everyone's pointing out their title is highly inaccurate.]

If you are a non-permanent resident here, Japan will still ask to see your card. If you don’t have it, the deletion of Guideline Eight simply means you won’t be thrown out. But guess what? The rule was still the rule—you still may get that letter asking when you are going to enroll in the official health insurance.

And so the money you are paying to Ron’s buddies at Health One, is money you should have been paying to the local ward office health insurance. The handful of commenters “celebrating” over at Japan Today don’t realize that nothing has changed.

I feel sorry for the people who keep buying this silly publicity stunt. You are supposed to enroll and pay for the regular health insurance. If your employer is supposed to cover you, you are supposed to be covered.

Nothing changed about enrolling, so if you want to convince yourself it’s otherwise:

Good luck with that!

[Update: a reader points to one of the latest revisions to the freechoice.jp website, concerning the U.S.-Japan totalization treaty that I’ve written about so much. FreeChoice, as usual, is playing fast and loose with the facts.

Ron’s site says:

Who is exempt from the system . . .

Japan has a pension treaty with a number of countries. Under this treaty, if an employee is hired by their employer in their home country and will be in Japan for less than 5 years, they are required to pay into their home country’s social system instead of Japan’s system. In fact, the Japan-U.S. Totalization Treaty requires Americans fitting this classification to enroll in private health insurance while in Japan.

[NOT exactly true for the first. You have to certify you are covered by social security (and be paying in on wages or self-employment income!) in order to be exempt from Japanese pension payments. The second assertion is outright false. The Japanese require you to enroll in theirs (the health insurance) unless you meet the terms, which are in another excerpt I discuss a bit today, and bolded, way down below on this post.]

And at this site, the Japanese (old SIA, new JPA JPS) have this to say about the insurance portion:

2.You may not be exempt from coverage of Japanese health insurance system

In order for you to be exempt from coverage of the Japanese public health insurance system, you need to be covered by private health insurance in U.S. against the cost of health care in Japan while you are temporarily sent to work in Japan from U.S. When your spouse and children stay in Japan with you, they must also be covered under private health insurance. If some of them are not covered by private health insurance, you and your family are not exempt from coverage of the Japanese health insurance system.

The U.S. social security administration’s interpretation goes like this. (This is under Part III in the link.) Notice the text below that I bold:

To establish an exemption from compulsory coverage and taxes under the Japanese system, your employer must request a certificate of coverage (form USA/J 6) from the United States at this address:

Social Security Administration
Office of International Programs
P.O. Box 17741
Baltimore, Maryland 21235-7741
U.S.A.

If preferred, the request may be sent by fax to (410) 966-1861. Please note this fax number should only be used for requesting certificates of coverage.

No special form is required to request a certificate, but, the request must be in writing and provide the following information:

-Full name of worker;
-Date and place of birth;
-Citizenship;
-Country of worker’s permanent residence;
-U.S. Social Security number;
-Date of hire;
-Country of hire;
-Name and address of the employer in the U.S. and Japan;
-Date of transfer and anticipated date of return, and
-A statement, signed by your employer, certifying whether or not you and all family members who live with you in Japan, are covered by an employer-sponsored or other private health insurance plan while in Japan (see Note below).

In addition, your employer must indicate whether you remain an employee of the U.S. company while working in Japan or you become an employee of the U.S. company’s affiliate in Japan. If you become an employee of an affiliate, your employer must indicate whether the U.S. company has an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service under section 3121(l) of the Internal Revenue Code to pay U.S. Social Security taxes for U.S. citizens and residents employed by the affiliate and, if yes, the effective date of the agreement.

Your employer can also request a certificate of U.S. coverage for you over the Internet using a special online request form available at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/coc. Only an employer can use the online form to request a certificate of coverage. A self-employed person must submit a request by mail or fax.

NOTE: In addition to retirement, disability and survivors benefits, Japanese Social Security taxes cover several other benefit programs including Japan’s health insurance program. If the employer or a self-employed person certifies the worker and all family members who accompany the worker to Japan are covered by an employer-sponsored or other private health insurance plan while in Japan, the worker and accompanying family members can be exempted from paying Japanese Social Security taxes including contributions to Japan’s health insurance program and cannot receive health care services or other benefits under the Japanese health insurance system. If the employer or self-employed person does not certify that the worker and all family members who accompany the worker to Japan are covered by an employer sponsored or other private health insurance plan while in Japan, the worker and accompanying family members must pay Japanese Social Security taxes including contributions for Japan’s health insurance system.

To establish your exemption from coverage under the U.S. Social Security system, your employer in Japan must request a certificate of coverage (form J/USA 6) from the local Japanese social insurance agency that collects your Social Security taxes in Japan.

The same information required for a certificate of coverage from the United States is needed to get a certificate from Japan except that:

* You must show your Japanese Basic Pension number rather than your U.S. Social Security number; and
* Your employer doesn’t need to certify whether you and your family are or are not covered by private health insurance.

So if your employer, who sends you here, does certify that you are covered, you can’t use the Japanese medical system unless you pay into it anyway. There is a similar, related, provision for those who are self-employed.

The Freechoicers site totally blows over that critical provision, and the Japanese suggest that you really need to enroll in theirs, but don’t make it clear.

So what the REAL RULE is, is that if you want to be exempt from Japanese social insurance here while here in Japan, an American employer has to send you to Japan. You must obtain a “USA/J-6″ form (or “J/USA-6″ depending [if you are in and want to certify such].). If you choose the American system, you must certify that you have the private insurance AND you must also pay the 7.65% social security tax to America (15.3% self-employment tax if you are a self-employed, private-lessons-type person.) And you agree not to show up at a Japanese medical provider—they can obviously turn you away unless maybe you have an emergency and can pay cash.

Otherwise, you have to enroll in the Japanese program. The totalization treaty is no escape hatch, unless you have some Cadillac deal from your company as it sends you here as an expat for a short-term gig.]