Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm over 70, so my costs are 10% of the total...

As a long-term American resident of Japan, I cannot praise the national health care system too highly. Though I have had the usual experiences of long waits and inexperienced young doctors at a large public hospital in Tokyo, the quality of care and inexpensive medicine and services I now receive is exemplary. At 71, I have the expected range of geriatric problems—osteo-arthritis in feet and hands, cranky knees, cataracts, prostate hyperplasia— plus Hepatitis C. Only the latter can be life threatening. The local public hospital in the small rural own where I live was limited in its ability (read unable) to treat the Hep C. After a nasty fall that injured a shoulder rotator cuff for which the local hospital rehab person was not able to cope, I was recommended to a private clinic in the next prefecture. The doctor there practices both Western and Oriental medicine, and he cured a friend's chronic lung condition almost overnight. His clinic is covered by the national health care. His intelligent and careful regimen for the Hep C has brought the viral count down almost to the point of defeating it, and that may still happen. Acupuncture is also available there under the health care system; this helps the arthritic pain greatly and probably slows the progress of the disease. The acupuncture also treated the pain and helped effect the use of the injured shoulder.

The rambling, anecdotal comment is to illustrate that one is able choose one's doctor in Japan and that the quality of medical treatment, if carefully chosen, can be excellent. Also, since I am over 70, my medical and medicine costs are only 10 percent, repeat 10 percent, of the total cost. For example, recently a CT scan cost me only ¥2,000 (roughly US$18). This quality of medical treatment and the low cost under the national health care system is one of the major reasons why I feel that a return to the US would be a disaster for me medically. I could not expect to find a doctor with the same intelligent application of two medical traditions and certainly could not afford the increasing cost of treatment, etc. as my body ages.

Kim Schuefftan
Gumma, Japan

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