Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
This week’s article puts the spotlight on healthcare in Japan, and provides useful information for those who are planning to either visit the country for a holiday, or live there for an extended period of time. Even if you don’t intend to go to Japan, you can still pick up some rather interesting information here.
The first thing you should know about is health insurance in Japan. Health insurance is compulsory for all Japanese citizens. Non-Japanese with the appropriate visa who stay in Japan for an extended period of time are also required to enroll in health insurance - though they are not penalized by the government if they don’t do so.
Healthcare in Japan can be terribly expensive, and having a health insurance helps you to avoid paying large sums of money when you get sick. The monthly premium for the public national health insurance can be very cheap for foreigners studying full-time in Japan – it can be as low as 800 yen (around US$10).
However, the premium can be pretty high if you’re working full-time. If you have a monthly salary of around 250,000 yen (approximately US$3000), you could pay up to approximately 30,000 yen (US$380) per month. In addition, once you’re enrolled in the national health insurance, there’s no way you can opt out of it unless you’re no longer a resident of Japan – that is, when you lose your visa status that allows you to stay in Japan for an extended period of time.
In addition, visiting the doctor or dentist is not free with the national health insurance. You pay 30% of the entire cost, while the government covers the remaining 70%. Therefore, private health insurance might seem to be a better choice for foreigners.
How expensive can healthcare get in Japan? A person enrolled in the natural health insurance who visits a dentist for a teeth polishing and scaling session can expect to fork out around 5000 yen (US$63) in total. That means the actual cost is approximately 17000 yen (US$200). Visiting a doctor to get consultation, prescription and medicine for a minor cold can set him or her back by around 2000 yen (US$25). This translates to an actual cost of around 7000 yen (US$90).
When visiting the doctor to get an ailment fixed, there are two different places you need to go. First, go to a clinic, and get your body checked by the doctor. Then, at the counter, the receptionist will give you a written prescription for your illness. Clinics do not stock medicine, so you’ll need to go somewhere else to get it
The place in question is a pharmacy. The pharmacy is at a separate location from the clinic, and the nearest one can be a five-minute walk away, or even longer. When you arrive there, show the pharmacist your prescription, and you’ll finally receive the medicine itself. It didn't use to be like this in the past, and this setup was apparently arranged to reduce waiting time for receiving medicine after consultation.
Visiting the dentist involves an even longer process. For a simple teeth polishing and scaling session, you need to visit the dentist at least three times. The first time, the dentist will clean all your lower teeth. Revisit the dentist one week later for your second session – this time for the dentist to work on your upper-right back teeth. Return yet another week later to get the rest of your teeth cleaned. Other dental services like removing cavities and such involve a similar process. There are even cases where people visit the dentist a whooping ten times for polishing and scaling, getting just a few teeth done at a time.
So getting all your teeth polished and scaled take an average of three weeks. Apparently, the reason for this arrangement is customer comfort – Getting all your teeth done at one go can make it hard for you to chew food later, due to the pain you feel after your visit to the dentist. By doing part of your teeth at a time, it is easier to eat since you wouldn’t experience that much pain. Still, as this system is the norm in Japan, the Japanese see it is being perfectly normal, and may see no reason to justify it to a foreigner.
And that wraps up the basic information you need to know about healthcare in Japan. Do you prefer the situation in Japan or in your own country?