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Japanese Hospital Stay

December 12th, 2005

I almost had to stay in a Japanese hospital, but not quite–the surgery got cancelled last week. One evening maybe 6 years ago, I got food poisoning from a sushi bar (which I of course no longer frequent), started going into shock, and got taken to a hospital by a neighbor–but didn’t stay the night. They pumped me full of fluids and I don’t know what else (not in the condition to observe at the time), and they sent me home. As a result, so far I have not had a stay in a hospital in Japan. But I’ve heard things about what it entails, and my near-stay last week got me another glimpse of that scenario, which I’d forgotten about long ago.

What’s different? Well, there’s a lot of stuff you have to bring. Stuff like pajamas and your toothbrush are not so hard to understand. But kleenex? And soap? True, hospital rooms don’t cost as much in Japan as they do in the U.S., but really, they can’t spring for tissues to blow your nose with?

Here’s the whole list of things you have to bring, aside from your papers: toothbrush, soap, shampoo, hair brush, shaving utensils, etc.; chopsticks, chopstick holder, spoon (a spoon?), teacup, and other eating utensils; pajamas, underwear, hand towel, bath towel, slippers, kleenex, and other overnight stuff. Anything you forget you can buy at the hospital shop.

The room I had a choice about: if I just go with what the insurance paid for only, the room would be free–but shared by four people. A semi-private room would set me back ¥4,200 ($35) a day. A private room would be ¥7,350 ($60). And a “big” private room would be ¥12,600 ($105) a day. And you get charged not by how many nights you stay, but any daytime stay–so though I would have been entering on Wednesday afternoon and leaving Saturday morning, I’d be charged for both Wednesday and Saturday, or a total of 4 days. But I guess that’s to be expected.

Whatever you may say about Japanese medical care, however, you can’t say that the care itself is too expensive. The national insurance, maybe (though I’d like to see how it compares to U.S. insurance), but the care itself is cheap–mainly because the government dictates prices, which keeps costs down significantly. The prices I quoted above for rooms are probably cheap compared to a U.S. hospital. Last year in the U.S., I got a bad nosebleed and had to get hospital care, which added up to about $1500 for only a half dozen visits (no stays). When I got back to Japan, I found out that my national insurance would cover it–but only up to the amount they would pay a hospital in Japan. That turned out to be ¥20,000 ($165). Considering that they pay 70% of medical fees, that means the total government-controlled cost of hospital care would have been ¥28,600 ($240), or about 1/6th of the U.S. costs.

True, Japanese hospitals aren’t as nice or as well-equipped, but they certainly are good enough. The lobby is not as plush, but the system works. And frankly, I experienced wait times at the U.S. hospital that were equivalent to what I experienced here in Japan.

So all the foibles about bringing your own kleenex aside, it’s really not so bad a deal here–U.S. health care could learn some lessons, particularly in cost control.

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  1. ykw
    December 13th, 2005 at 07:24 | #1

    I like the idea of having folks pay for as much as possible, and then reducing their insurance cost in return, which is taxes in the case of Japan (in theory), and insurance in the usa.

  2. December 21st, 2005 at 21:14 | #2

    I’m a huge fan of the Japanese health system. It should be mentioned that you never have to pay more than about $700 in any given month, even if you’re hospitalized for that entire month. Actually you do pay for the 30% as usual, but you get all but $700 refunded to you in a few weeks.

    I never used hospitals much in the States, but from what I hear from others, the care received by HMO programs is rushed and often inadequate, regardless of whatever facilities may exist. In Japan we have the freedom to research and choose whatever doctor and hospital we want and it is covered by our insurance, so we can always go somwhere with a well-known doctor famous in their field if we don’t mind the extra travel time.

    The fact that all of our son’s health care is completely free just can’t be beat.

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