Healthcare for foreigners in Japan
A recent but prolonged illness forced me to cancel much of my plans to travel and study in Japan and remain in Australia for the foreseeable future. Between the surgical consultations and medication, my savings and holiday leave evaporated requiring me to start over again.
Perhaps it was fortunate that this occurred in Australia where my wife could drive me to hospital in the middle of the night and explain the situation as I was in no condition to communicate. I would hate to attempt to describe my condition with my limited Japanese, especially trying to mime the symptoms, when I was almost delirious.
In Australia, much of our healthcare is publicly funded by the taxpayer – although private health insurance is encouraged by our government’s obsession with cost cutting. Due to the tight budget, the consequence with both the emergency department and the hospital stay itself is the approach of “treat ’em then street ’em” – deal with the immediate problem and then as soon as the patient is out of danger, handball them back to their General Practitioner.
Also due to the tight budget for public healthcare, there are often long waiting lists when being referred to specialists or being admitted for surgery. As I took out basic private insurance after I was married, my GP was able to call in some favours and get me to see a specialist that afternoon – the specialist examined me and told me “you are not going home today”. I was admitted immediately.
My hospitalisation was brief, but recovery was much longer and required several follow up consultations due to ongoing complications. I didn’t think too much of it until bills for both consultations and medication started arriving – my insurance covered the hospital stay but very little else as the specialist wasn’t “endorsed” by my insurance provider. I hadn’t seen bills that large since my wedding.
Should this have happened in Japan, I find myself wondering what the situation would have been. I’ve known people who visited America and fell ill or were injured during their stay, only to have doctors refuse to treat them because they didn’t have the right kind of insurance. Having injured her back, one was required to pay cash upfront for treatment, the other had to administer their own treatment – the family she was staying with were all doctors but couldn’t help her, but did show her how to inject herself.
Previous study trips I have taken have been to places where comprehensive treatment was available for a modest annual fee, or covered by my own travel insurance for shorter stays – the arrangement being that once I was out of danger, I would be flown back to Australia for the remainder of the treatment required. These have typically been “tourist destination” and often operated by Australian businesses.
I would be interested in learning other people’s experiences with healthcare in Japan – how much was covered by different insurance schemes versus how much they were out of pocket, what difficulties they encountered both in communication and if they encountered any discrimination. Even differences in treatment between cities and rural areas.
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