How Expensive is Medical Care in Japan? Getting Enough Insurance to Cover Your Need
How It Works: Japanese Medical Expenses
Japan is one of the world's leading countries in terms of life expectancy and medical advancements, and all citizens and residents are in principal enrolled in the country's health insurance system. As a result, patients are typically only responsible for 30% of their medical bills when visiting a medical institution, and additional reimbursement is possible if your expenses exceed a certain limit within the same month. Even for foreigners living in Japan, it is possible to receive nationalized health insurance so long as you meet certain criteria.
There are two major types of public health insurance in Japan, "Employees' Health Insurance" and "National Health Insurance". If you are employed by a Japanese company, you are automatically enrolled in the Employees' Health Insurance system (unless you're employed part time below a certain number of hours). Your insurance premiums will be paid by the company and automatically deducted from your salary. If you don't have health insurance through your company, then you can enroll in Japan's National Health Insurance program, though in order to do so you will need to have a visa status of residence longer than three months. If you do not qualify for either the Employee's Health Insurance or National Health insurance programs, you will be responsible for all medical expenses out of pocket, so be careful!
How Much Does it Cost if You're a Foreigner?
So how much does it actually cost to go to the doctor's in Japan? Let's take a look at the estimates that Tokyo's Hitotsubashi Hospital has published on their website. If you come down with a cold and see a doctor, you can expect to pay 3,400 yen. Should you be enrolled in a health insurance plan, you will be responsible for 30% of those costs, or 1010 yen. Prescription costs are typically handled separately at the pharmacy.
Recently, skiing has become a popular pastime for foreigners in Japan. Should you happen to break an ankle while on the slopes, you can expect to pay 24,900 yen, even for a relatively minor one day doctor's visit. This cost includes your initial doctor's visit, prescription fees, x-rays, gypsum treatment, and even reconstructive surgery. Even at a 30% copay, your share will come in at 7,470 yen.
Though the above example is just an estimate, in the worst case scenario of a major illness, advanced surgery, or hospitalization, it may be necessary to pay anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of yen, or even more.
What About Private Health Insurance Plans for Foreigners?
For those foreigners who have a long-term residence status and enrollment into a national health plan, it is possible to be reimbursed for high medical expenses as stated above, but what about foreigners who are visiting the country on a short term tourist visa?
According to a "Survey on the Medical Care of Foreign Travelers Visiting Japan" conducted by the Japanese Tourism Bureau on March 29th, 2018, 73% of foreign travelers visiting Japan have travel insurance to cover their medical expenses. However, of those travelers, 34% have "Cashless Medical Treatment Service" type insurance, which does not require up front hospital payments or reimbursement after filing an insurance claim. 9% are able to use a telephone "interpreting service" should they be hospitalized.
Many major property insurance companies have also begun offering insurance to the increasing number of foreigners visiting Japan, so that they can travel with peace of mind.
Sompo Japan Nipponkoa (Sompo Holdings, Inc.)'s "Japanese Travelers Insurance" has a 10-day premium of 2,900 yen, and offers compensation for treatment costs of up to 10 million yen. In addition to having access to over 800 affiliated medical institutions, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa offers "cashless treatment" services and interpreting services via telephone in three languages: English, Chinese, and Korean.
Reference: Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance Inc. - Travel Insurance for Visitors
The "Overseas Travel Insurance for Foreigners Visiting Japan" policy issued by Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. also offers compensation for medical expenses up to 10 million yen, with a 10 day insurance premium of 3,620 yen. In addition to cashless treatment and English, Chinese, and Korean interpretation services, Tokio Marine Nichido's policy also includes services such as the arrangement of transportation to a patient's home country if necessary, support for passport and credit card theft/loss, free Wi-Fi, and smartphone applications with translation functions.
Reference: Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., Ltd. - Japan Travel Insurance
Both companies allow enrollment via internet after your arrival in Japan. Medical care in Japan is excellent, but for those who are uninsured, medical expenses may become expensive. Many Japanese people are quite kind, but unfortunately there are many people here who are not good at foreign languages. By enrolling in a travel insurance policy with cashless medical service and interpretation services, you can enjoy staying in Japan with confidence.
About the Author:
After working at both domestic manufacturing and overseas trading companies, Shinichi Nagao has been employed as a financial planner in Hiroshima Prefecture since 2008. In addition to his business in the insurance industry, Shinichi teaches seminars at many companies on the topic of Defined Contribution Pension Plans, lectures at high schools and universities on the topics of education funds and career plans.