Healthcare in Japan

Japan has universal public healthcare: it’s a legal requirement for all Japanese citizens to have the health insurance provided by the state. This coverage is quite thorough and entitles people to choose their own clinics and hospitals from any of the vast majority that are part of the system.

Healthcare in Japan
Healthcare in Japan

Quick facts on the healthcare system in Japan

  • Public, private, or universal health insurance: universal public healthcare.
  • Population % covered by health insurance: it is compulsory, so 100% should have coverage, although a small fraction goes without.
  • Average cost of an emergency room bringing ¥10,000–15,000 if you are covered by health insurance.
  • Average cost of a doctor’s visit: ¥5,000–10,000.
  • Average cost of public health insurance for 1 person: around 5% of your salary.
  • Number of pharmacies: over 53,000, or almost 42 per 100,000 people. There are more pharmacies than convenience stores.
  • Number of hospitals: just under 8,500.

Money in Japan is denominated in yen that is written as JPY in trading markets. The symbol you will see is ¥, or in Japan itself. It has never easy to compare costs between currencies because the global exchange market is constantly changing. But an online currency converter can give you the latest figures to find out what your money’s currently worth in yen.

At the time of writing, this is approximately what the yen is worth internationally:

¥10,000 = £71

¥10,000 = €76.70

¥10,000 = US$91.62

¥10,000 = AU$115.18

Japan’s medical system: Public, private, universal, national, state, single payer — which is it?

Japan has universal public healthcare: it’s a legal requirement for all Japanese citizens to have the health insurance provided by the state. This coverage is quite thorough and entitles people to choose their own clinics and hospitals from any of the vast majority that are part of the system. International private healthcare is the only option for short-term visitors and other private options are available in Japan to supplement the public coverage. But the system is structured around public healthcare.

Hospitals in Japan

Most hospitals accept standard Japanese health insurance and will bill you the standard 30%, so the financial side of your hospital visit should not be so stressful. Bear in mind though, that they often cost more if you do not have a referral from a doctor. Also, they tend to prefer cash payments to card.

You will need to check each hospital’s schedules, as they can vary substantially. You might need an appointment before turning up, or you might not. And there might only be a few hours each day during which you can visit for the first time. If you come without a referral, you might be turned away and must go elsewhere.

You might end up staying a while — even routine operations typically require a few days in a hospital bed. A hernia operation, for instance, can put you in hospital for 5 days.

Health care in Japan — a hybrid system funded by job-based insurance premiums and taxes — is universal and mandatory and consumes about 8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, half as much as in the United States. Unlike in the U.S. system, no one is denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition or goes bankrupt because a family member gets sick.

But many health-care economists say Japan’s low-cost system is probably not sustainable without significant change. Japan already has the world’s oldest population; by 2050, 40 percent will be 65 or older. The disease mix is becoming more expensive to treat, as rates of cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease steadily increase. Demand for medical care will triple in the next 25 years, according to a recent analysis by McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm.

Japan’s health care system edges foreign care in expat survey

just over half of non-Japanese residents feel Japan’s health care system is generally better than that in their home countries, a trend particularly pronounced among U.S. citizens, with 3 out of 4 rating it more highly, an informal Japan Times survey has found.

The survey, which was conducted online from Feb. 5 till Feb. 9 and which drew responses from 263 people of 48 nationalities, including naturalized Japanese, also found that many think Japanese health care is affordable and high-quality but troubled by doctors’ poor bedside manner and a system they say is too complicated to navigate.

Of all respondents, 29.3 percent said Japan’s health care was “much better” and 25.1 percent said it was “slightly better,” followed by 18.6 percent who said it was “about the same,” 15.2 percent who said “slightly worse,” and 11.8 percent who said “much worse.”

Asked to list the strong points of the Japanese system, 170 said affordability, followed by 132 who said generally high quality and 116 who said efficiency.

Asked to list the weak points, 123 said their doctors were not personable, followed by 107 who listed complexity and 74 who cited inefficiency.

EMI believes the root of this problem is in the process of how patients, providers, and payers exchange and validate information. In today’s system, the patient is not the owner of their information. Providers and payers transact with each other, using the patient’s information, without real-time approval. To combat potential consumer risks, regulations and checks and balances are implemented which are slowing the pace of innovation.

The first line of detection is placed on patients requiring them to review their bills for correctness, when they could be dealing with serious health issues. Even a patient in good health would never understand which ICD-10 codes are acceptable for the services delivered, or how many units of which medications they received.

Closing Thoughts:

Decisions are only as good as the information you must make them on. The current healthcare system is not equipped to securely store patient data and allow transactions using the information to be controlled properly leading to poor overall outcomes.

The focus needs to be shifted towards achieving better patient outcomes, increasing participation in preventative measures, and leveraging secure data storage and controls to reduce waste.