Monday, February 9, 2009

Coverage vs. Care in Japan

Japan's universal health care system supposedly guarantees "coverage" for all residents. However, theoretical coverage isn't the same thing as actual medical care, as this unfortunate man found out:
Injured man dies after rejection by 14 hospitals

After getting struck by a motorcycle, an elderly Japanese man with head injuries waited in an ambulance as paramedics phoned 14 hospitals, each refusing to treat him.

He died 90 minutes later at the facility that finally relented -- one of thousands of victims repeatedly turned away in recent years by understaffed and overcrowded hospitals in Japan.

Paramedics reached the accident scene within minutes after the man on a bicycle collided with a motorcycle in the western city of Itami. But 14 hospitals refused to admit the 69-year-old citing a lack of specialists, equipment and staff, according to Mitsuhisa Ikemoto, a fire department official.

The Jan. 20 incident was the latest in a string of recent cases in Japan in which patients were denied treatment, underscoring health care woes in a rapidly aging society that faces an acute shortage of doctors and a growing number of elderly patients.
Nor is the problem one that would be solved by imposing a law like the US EMTALA statutes which force hospitals to accept and stabilize emergency patients. In the US, this has creating yet more overcrowding of emergency room. EMTALA has also driven away physicians from working at these hospitals. What cardiologist or neurosurgeon wants to take ER call if he isn't compensated for any care he delivers, but can still be sued for any alleged malpractice?

Instead, Japan's problems are more systemic and "is nearing collapse". When people are told they have a "right" to care without limit, costs will also rise without limit. Soon, the only alternative will be rationing, as is already commonplace in other countries like Canada and the UK.

Will the US be next?

(Via Gus Van Horn.)