as a means to halt the population decrease in Fukushima Prefecture. In other words, free medical care for children is offered as an incentive for the residents to stay put instead of moving out of Fukushima to escape high radiation contamination. It is being demanded by the Fukushima prefectural government.
Why is Fukushima demanding it? Because the population decrease means less subsidy money coming from the national government, which is based on the population. Less money, less power.
Even then, the national government balks at the potential cost for free medical care in Fukushima as too high.
How much money are they talking about? 10 billion yen (US$130 million) per year.
For your reference, Japan's special budget for energy (nuclear, practically) development is about 340 billion yen (US$4.4 billion) per year, whose funding comes from about 110 yen per month surcharge per account on electrical bills for the consumers. (If you read Japanese, here's Tokyo Shinbun's article on this special budget, 9/30/2011, saying half the money goes to organizations set up specifically to receive the retiring bureaucrats and politicians - amakudari, or "descending from heaven".)
This offer is not extended to children who are now out of Fukushima, or to children residing in other prefectures in Tohoku and Kanto regions with high radiation hot spots and significant radiation contamination.
From Asahi Shinbun Digital Version (1/9/2012):
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited Fukushima Prefecture on January 8 for the first time since he declared the end of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident. Concerning the free medical care for anyone under the age of 18 in the prefecture, the prime minister said, "I take it as a very important task", indicating to the press corp that he may consider examining the issue. It will be coordinated within the administration.
Free medical care for people under the age of 18 is demanded by the Fukushima prefectural government. Since many children have evacuated from Fukushima for the radiation exposure concern, the plan is aimed at halting the population decrease. Governor Yuhei Sato, who met with Prime Minister Noda on January 8, pressed for the plan again.
The cost is estimated to be slightly less than 10 billion yen per year. However, the executive staff of the reconstruction headquarters of the national government are negative on the idea, saying "It's hard to draw a line. If illnesses like common cold are included, the fiscal burden [to the national government] would be [too] large." In the meeting of the Council for Fukushima Reconstruction on January 8, the prime minister was heard saying, "There are various opinions within the government. It is a difficult problem."
Ah, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Noda will consider considering the plan. When someone presses him a few weeks later, he will say it is a difficult problem that needs more time. A month later if someone still asks, he will say he will consider setting up an expert committee to consider it. When someone else asks him a few months later, he will say since it is so important, he will consider asking the experts to consider setting up an expert committee to consider it, and so on.
It is amusing if people's health and lives aren't at stake.
Even the scheming mayor of Futaba-machi, where Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is located, is frustrated with the non-response from the Noda government. During the Council meeting, he said directly to Prime Minister Noda, "Do you consider us the residents of Futaba-machi as Japanese citizens?" according to Yomiuri Shinbun (1/9/2012).