It's Just What the Doctor Ordered

By Reid, T. R. | Newsweek, August 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

It's Just What the Doctor Ordered


Reid, T. R., Newsweek


Byline: T. R. Reid

Japan shows how it's done: keep quality up, costs down, and M.D.s on board.

To gauge a health-care system's success, it's standard to consider three points: quality, coverage, and cost. On all three measures, Japan stands at or near the top in every comparative ranking.

Quality: The Japanese have the world's longest life expectancy and the best recovery rates from just about every major disease. Infant mortality is less than half the U.S. rate. Japan usually leads the world in rankings of "avoidable mortality"--its effectiveness in curing diseases that can be cured.

Coverage: Japan's health-insurance sys-tem covers everybody, including illegal aliens. It pays for physical, mental, dental, and long-term care. The Japanese are the world's most prodigious consumers of medical care; on average they see the doctor about 15 times per year, three times the U.S. norm. They get twice as many prescriptions per capita and three times as many MRI scans. The average hospital stay is 20 nights--four times the U.S. average.

Cost: And yet Japan produces all that high-quality care at bargain-basement prices. The aging nation spends about $3,500 per person on health care each year; America burns through $7,400 per person and still leaves millions without coverage.

Japan has universal coverage, but it's not "socialized medicine." It's largely a private-sector system. There is government insurance for the unemployed and the elderly, but most people rely on private plans. Japanese doctors are the most capitalist and competitive in the world. …

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