Healthcare in Japan, Part 1

This is a topic I have wanted to blog about for awhile.  It just didn’t seem like I knew enough about the system here to compare it to the States.  Well, that’s all changed now.  But let me start at the beginning.

In order for the kids to be enrolled in their respective schools, we had to get a clean bill of health from the ward office and sign the kids up for healthcare.  They gave us a magic beige 1/4 sheet of cardstock and told me to bring it along with their health insurance card to any doctor whenever they get ill.  A few months later, Zachary fell ill and we headed over to a nearby clinic.  I handed both cards to the receptionist, and sat in the waiting room for over an hour.  Finally, we saw the doctor and he performed an exam and started using medical terms I didn’t know.  Thankfully, he saw my confusion and began to explain it in English.  Phew–just a common cold.  After we left the exam room, we went to the cashier, got both cards back, a prescription for cold medicine and paid the grand total of ¥500 (about $5).  I headed over to the pharmacist wondering how much the medicine would be.  Once again I gave her both cards as we filled out new patient forms.  She handed me the medicine and our cards while thanking us for coming.  I asked how much it was and she said, “無料” free.  What?!??  The medicine is free??  “はい” “yes” was her reply.  We decided to run out before she had a chance to change her mind.

The Japanese government has been passing laws to ease the burden of raising children ever since they noticed lower birthrates year to year.  Even before this trend, Japan has invested in the welfare of children for at least 60 years. Kids under the age of 16 are able to get the magic card that makes every doctor/dentist visit ¥500 and medication free, because they believe that children are our future (cue Whitney Houston).  Not to mention that last year a law passed to make preschool free.  We had only been paying about $100/mo for Jack’s preschool in the first place, which was a steal compared to the thousands each month for childcare in the States.  Oh, I changed topics, didn’t I.  Let me get back to healthcare in Japan.

So, I mentioned I play volleyball on a PTA “mamasan” league made up of elementary school moms.  There are 9 people on the court and some other wacky rules, like if you hit the ball into the net, you get another chance to get it over in 4 passes instead of 3.  Anyway, at practice, back in November, I went to spike the ball — like back in my high school days🙄  — but when I landed, I felt a pop in my knee.  I immediately knew I tore something.  The team captain called hospital after hospital and all of them were either closed or didn’t have an orthopedist on staff.  Each facility recommended I go home and head over in the morning when they open.  I found it entirely strange that hospitals are open from 9a-6p like department stores.  There are no after-hours clinics or urgent care locations.  I asked if there were emergency rooms.  The response was there is one 24 hour hospital in south Osaka, but they only take serious, life or death kind of emergencies.  Um, ok.  I guess I can wait until the morning.

Since I couldn’t walk and didn’t have a spare pair of crutches on hand, I had to call Michael for help.  It was reassuring to know that Michael was able to carry me home since I couldn’t walk.  The boys kept laughing at how red Michael’s face turned while he gave me a piggy back.  I couldn’t stop laughing that this was actually happening.  We made it home, I popped a pill and slept very uncomfortably that night.

In the morning, we took a taxi to an orthopedist that a teammate recommended.  The small waiting room was overflowing with people waiting to see the doctor.  It was reassuring to see all those people; he must be good if the waiting room is full at 9 a.m. (or he’s incredibly slow–I’m going with the former).  Another teammate got to the clinic at 7 that morning to put my name on the waiting list (thank you Rena!), so we skipped the line and got seen right away.  The doctor gave me crutches, took an x-ray and since there were no signs of broken bones, he suggested an MRI.  He suspected a torn meniscus, but an MRI would show what kind of tear and how to proceed.  Because it’s the same knee that I had an ACL repair done years ago, they needed clearance from my surgeon in the States that the hardware in my knee is MRI safe.  That began a 2 month ordeal trying to get my medical records sent to me.  That aside, I went to the cashier who rang me up: ¥1000 rental fee for the crutches and ¥2830 for the doctor’s visit including the x-ray.  Not bad for a doctor’s visit.  It wasn’t ¥500, like for the boys, but it’s pretty much the $30 co-pay you’d pay back in the States.  But there is an additional safety net: any amount over ¥20,000 ($200) in a month is reimbursed.  It’s on a sliding scale based on income, which I completely on board with.


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