Saturday, April 11, 2009

The health care system in Japan offers safety, quality, and security

I have lived in Japan off and on for close to fifteen years and for most of that time have been covered by the National Health Insurance (now, at the university where I work, I am covered by a slightly different socialized medical plan that is union-based). I pay 30% deductible. In all these years, I have found this coverage to be nothing but a source of relief and peace of mind. Many people back home in the U.S., and this includes myself when I lived in Virginia and California, are at some times in their lives without insurance, which means they cannot afford basic preventative medical care much less necessary treatment. Indeed, it is only now AFTER having had coverage under Japan’s national plan that I truly understand how lax the U.S. is and no longer see it as “the way things are” or have to be; actually, I am more fearful of returning to the U.S. where basic health care is not considered a fundamental right of citizens. Here, when my husband broke his toe in a minor accident one night, the ambulance came within fifteen minutes. They took us to a nearby hospital where he received immediate, excellent treatment after hours, including seeing a doctor, getting X-rays, and having a splint put on. All in all, less than $50.00. His follow-up care was personal and complete, inspiring his confidence to go there for all his medical needs in the future. In my case, five years ago I discovered that I was losing vision in my left eye. I went to a university teaching hospital where I had it looked at by a professor and doctor of, it turned out, the highest quality in the country; in the following weeks, I would have surgery on my eye to have a scleral buckle put in to prevent further detachment of my retina and potential blindness if I had not received immediate attention. My care was the best from start to finish, as was follow-up and results: my eye is now better vision-wise than it was before the operation and I have had no problems with it since. I shudder to think how I might have put off the crucial, initial examination of my eye if I had been in the U.S.
Admittedly, as foreigners, we sometimes get special attention or treatment, I think, in Japan, but in comparing my care with my Japanese neighbors and those in the waiting room or my hospital room I always hear and see how they take for granted their nationalized medicine. Consequently, their complaints about having to wait or not being able to make appointments or the like are the complaints of those who are invested in making their system work better, not of those who want to change to a system such as we have in the U.S. Is there anyone from any country who would prefer that? I would find that hard to believe, unless he or she were someone from a country without any health care at all – but then again, in that case, the U.S. can be said to be in effect on a par with a country that offers no health care, even if it has great doctors and facilities. It has health care only for those who can afford it, it seems, in too many cases.
How did we reach this point of such patently unpersuasive, false arguments about “socialized medicine” in violation of our “capitalist” society, thereby losing sight of the democratic aims voiced in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, one of those aims being, you will recall, that the government will “promote the General Welfare” on our behalf? What is included under “the General Welfare” if not basic protection and promotion of health care for all citizens? If other countries can do it, why can’t we? Although Europe is in recession just as are we, its citizens feel it less thanks to its safety net systems. Let’s argue about which safety net system, not to have one or not! Universal health care works under capitalism, is not without inconveniences such as waiting and bureaucracy, and it is certainly not “free,” as we can see in Japan. Despite its imperfections, as imperfect as democracy itself as we strive to improve our country for the benefit of all, the universal health care system in Japan offers safety, quality, and security that I would take any day over, well, nothing – which is what the U.S. offers too many of us all the time, or at least at that some point in our lives when we most need it. My deductible two cents.

Mary Knighton
Tokyo, Japan

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