Japan boasts one of the best healthcare systems in the world. According to Zhang and Oyama, the success of the Japanese healthcare system can be attributed to policy-makers that have diligently balanced and controlled prices within the countries universal healthcare system. The quality of medical treatment in Japan is competitive with that quality of treatment received in the US.
The regulatory processes in Japan are overseen by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) and the independent Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Agency (PMDA). It is generally recognized that the regulatory process for medical devices in Japan is somewhat challenging; however, the demand for advanced medical technologies to treat Japan’s aging population has made the country a worthwhile pursuit for multinational medical device manufacturers.
Individual health insurance is mandated by the Japanese government. As a result of the government mandate, the majority of Japanese citizens have some form of personal health insurance. Personal health insurance is supplemented by government-funded universal healthcare insurance, which covers approximately 70% of medical costs – leaving patients responsible for 30% of treatment costs.
According to 2019 estimates from LSI’s Global Procedure Volume Tracker, the top three procedure categories, by total procedure volume, in Japan were:
- Urological procedures – 5.5 million procedures
- Obstetrical and Gynecological procedures – 3.4 million procedures
- Ophthalmological procedures – 1.1 million procedures
Overall, LSI projects that there will be over 14.5 million surgical procedures performed in Japan in 2019.
Despite the many recognized successes of Japan’s healthcare system, the country faces several challenges that could impact the accessibility and affordability of healthcare in the future. The largest hurdle that Japan’s policy-makers must contend with is the declining population, which has sustained below-replacement fertility rates for many years. As the elderly demographic in Japan continues to expand, the number of taxpayers in Japan contracts. This has an adverse effect on Japan’s universal insurance system, which is funded through premiums paid to the central government. These premiums function as a separate tax based on an individual’s income. The decline in tax paying citizens is only one facet of the problem facing Japanese policy-makers.
The elderly utilize healthcare services to a much greater extent when compared to other age groups. As the demand for healthcare increases in parallel with the country’s growing elderly demographic, shortages in healthcare providers will challenge healthcare delivery.