American vs. Japanese Health Care
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American vs. Japanese Health Care

By Elizabeth Gibson for The J-Pop Exchange

In a country famous for expensive things like fruit and hotel accommodations, healthcare in Japan is surprisingly affordable for those who live there.

The Japanese system provides healthcare for all citizens, with a relatively low cost and few appointment requirements. Like all other developed countries, with the exception of the United States, Japan has universal coverage, which means everyone is covered by the public health insurance program.

Basic appointments cost about $20 or $30, even without insurance — about what your copay with insurance would be in the U.S. In general, patients are responsible for about 30 percent of the costs of treatment, with the government paying for the other 70 percent.

Japan ranks as one of the top performing healthcare systems in the world by quite a few measures:

1. Japan has the longest life expectancy of any major country in the world at 83.7 years; compare that with 79.3 years in the United States.
2. No one from the island nation of 130 million has ever gone bankrupt due to medical fees — at least so far. Meanwhile in the U.S., 643,000 Americans go bankrupt every year due to their medical bills.
3. Japan spends $4,150 per capita on healthcare; the United States spends more than double at $9,451.
4. Japan ranks #1 in infant mortality at 2.0 infants per 1,000; the United States ranks bottom of the pack at 6.1 per 1,000.

Of course, it’s not completely fair to compare the Japanese and American healthcare systems based on statistics alone. Nor would the United States simply be able to adopt Japan’s system. The reasons for Japan’s longevity and good health have long been a source of debate, but due to cultural, lifestyle, genetic, and social issues it is hard to find a single factor. Largely though, Japan’s system is sustained by low rates of drug addiction, violence, car accidents, and obesity.

Japan’s dedication to prevention as opposed to treatment, however, is arguably a big factor. For example, technology is used to detect diseases before they become too unmanageable to treat. High-gadgetry treatment, not prevention, is more of the focus in the United States.

However, it’s important to note that health care in Japan comes with its own problems.

The Japanese health care system, which was achieved in 1961, has changed very little since that inauguration over five decades ago. Not only that, but its rapidly aging population (which comes with a shrinking rate of premium-paying customers, more hospital and clinic visits, and an increase in nursing care for the elderly), added with the arrival of expensive new pharmaceuticals and technology, huge strains are being put onto the system. Experts say its sustainability is now being put into question.

Even then, though there isn’t universal health care in the United States, the disparity between quantity and quality of care people can access between the U.S. and Japan is huge. Japan is still progressing much more than most other countries in terms of health care.


Japan Times — Continuing streak, Japan leads world in life expectancy, WHO report says
Japan Times — Japan’s Buckling Health Care System at a Crossroads
Wikipedia — List of countries by total health expenditure per capita
Knoema — Japanese Infant Mortality Rate

More by Elizabeth Gibson:

Fireworks in Japan

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