Launching Japan's Cord Blood Bank Network
In the 1990s, Komeito was the first political party in Japan to endorse and support a volunteer group striving to establish a public cord blood bank, a facility that preserves umbilical cord blood to treat blood- and immune system-related genetic diseases, cancers and blood disorders. The party, the predecessor to New Komeito, began by launching a nationwide petition drive, which was signed by more than 2 million Japanese. It then called national attention to the facility's need and efficacy by raising the issue in the Diet. As a result, the health ministry agreed to cover cord blood transplantations under the national health insurance program, dramatically reducing the cost burden to patients. A year later, a nationwide cord blood bank network was established; by 2008, according to the Japanese Cord Blood Bank Network, 4,850 patients underwent transplants.
New Komeito was the principal agent in the launch of an emergency medical service (EMS) helicopter fleet in 2001, drawing upon Germany's success in saving lives in times of medical emergencies. The fleet-which includes specially trained physicians as part of its flight crews-has grown steadily, from just 11 at its inception to 22 as of 2010, owing to New Komeito's consistent lobbying to secure government funding for a nationwide service. The party also pushed through measures to reduce the financial burden on prefectural governments which operate the choppers.
Paving Way for Paramedics
For decades, Japanese ambulance crews were prevented by an ugly knot of bureaucratic obstinance and legal obstacles from dispensing even the most rudimentary responses in medical emergencies. New Komeito's predecessor, the Komeito party, labored for nearly two years before the health ministry was finally forced to admit what was widely recognized in the West: The survival rate of heart attack victims and other trauma cases could be significantly improved if they were treated within 15 minutes-which usually meant in transit to a hospital in an ambulance. As a result of the Komeito lobbying, a law establishing national certification of paramedics was passed in April 1991. A year later, 3,177 were officially certified; by 2006, that number had grown to 16,468.
Assault on Allergies and Other Immune System Disorders
In January 2001, New Komeito legislators and party members launched a petition drive across Japan calling for a comprehensive government effort to combat allergies and other immune system disorders. More than 14.6 million Japanese signed the petition, spurring a national initiative that led to a massive increase in public funding for clinical research on the pathology and treatment of allergies, including the establishment of a new Research Center for Allergy and Immunology in Kanagawa prefecture.
National Cancer Initiative
New Komeito was the principal architect and agent for a law drawing upon the full might of the nation's medical resources to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure cancer that went into effect from April 2007. The initiative, a ten-year program and action plan, will fast-track government approval of newly developed cancer-fighting drugs and treatments, and lists among its manifold goals improved therapy, regulatory agencies established at national and prefectural levels, enhanced palliative care and medical centers which serve as information clearinghouses, among others, in all 47 prefectures. One state agency, created to provide patients and their families with counseling services on cancer issues, will open in 2007. Japan lags in cancer diagnosis and therapy versus the United States, which adopted a similar national program in 1971.
Capping Medical, Nursing Care Costs
New Komeito successfully lobbied for a payment ceiling to be instituted on the amount that subscribers to the national medical health insurance program has to pay if he or she is also paying for the government's nursing care insurance. Starting from April 2008, senior citizens aged 75 and over will pay a maximum of 560,000 yen a year if they are paying both medical and nursing care insurance, a reduction of some 420,000 yen from the past. Low-income families will also be entitled to the same reduction.