Japan’s Government Amends Ban on Mixed Medical Services

The Japanese government recently approved a plan to amend the ban on “mixed medical care” in Japan. Mixed medical care refers to the use of both insured and uninsured medical treatments by medical institutions and doctors. The mixed medical care ban requires that healthcare providers use only those drugs and medical devices which are covered by Japan’s public health insurance. As it is now, a patient receiving treatment that includes a single uninsured element must pay the entire cost of service, with exceptions made only in cases involving “highly advanced care.” The announced reform will substantially increase this list of exceptions, and will also provide subsidies to patients receiving uninsured treatments.

The government has announced that medical treatments that have been successfully used overseas, in certain cases, will be allowed to be used by Japanese doctors without receiving government approval. This decision will cause many currently uninsured drugs and treatments to become affordable to Japanese patients. This, in turn, will benefit some foreign pharmaceutical companies whose drugs will now be able to enter the Japanese market.

In connection with this announcement, the government has also appointed a panel of experts who are expected to soon decide whether drugs already approved for use in Germany, France, Britain and the US should be automatically approved for testing in Japan.

The announcements come as Japan’s healthcare system is suffering from increasing costs and malpractice claims, as well as a shortage of doctors. The government sees liberalization of mixed medical care as a way to increase the scope of private competition in Japan’s healthcare system, which may help to reduce costs and increase quality. The government has said that it will continue to discuss the possibility of an unconditional lift on the ban in the coming year.