Health Care in Japan: How Sustainable is the System?

Kanzler, Ludwig; Shibuya, Kenji GND

On its surface, Japan’s health system appears to be one of the world’s best. The country provides universal access to health care and scores well on most public health metrics. For example, the Japanese have the longest life expectancy and among the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, and they lose significantly fewer potential life years to disease than do the citizens of almost any other country. And Japan consistently spends less on health care than most other developed countries do. However, Japan’s health system – like those in many other countries – is under severe stress. An increasing number of patients are finding it difficult to obtain the right care at the right time and place. The quality of care delivered varies markedly. Many of the cost-control measures the system has implemented have damaged its cost-effectiveness. The system’s funding mechanisms are insufficient to meet rising costs, and given the current economic situation, the country has few good options for meeting the funding gap. As a result, the sustainability of Japan’s health system is now in question, and decisive action is necessary.