Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

June 13, 2014

Patients' interests come first

It is important that a planned reform of health-care services should provide patients with greater options, thus giving them swift access to advanced medical services at lower cost.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced a plan to establish a system to offer patients greater access to so-called mixed medical care — that is, a combination of medical treatments covered by health insurance with treatments that are not covered. The system would permit patients to receive both types of medical care at the same time, though this would be limited to scenarios in which patients ask for treatments not covered by insurance after determining that their doctors’ explanations about such medical care are convincing.

The prime minister explained the purpose of the new system, saying, “[The government] wants to create a mechanism for implementing flexible measures to ensure patients receive advanced treatment at nearby medical facilities.” We hope Abe will make good on his promise to promptly design a system in which the interests of patients come first.

The mixed medical care plan would enable the simultaneous use of services covered by public health insurance programs and those to which such insurance plans do not apply.

Medical services of that nature have been banned, as a general rule, over fears of enabling the spread of treatments whose safety and efficacy are open to doubt.

As circumstances stand today, patients are required to pay all expenses — even for treatments that would otherwise be covered — if they receive mixed medical care. This means, for example, that patients must shoulder exorbitant financial burdens if they choose to receive anticancer drugs that have not yet been approved in this country. Such a situation must be rectified.

The few exceptions to the ban on mixed medical care include some cutting-edge treatments. This applies to new methods of treatment for which approval for coverage under health insurance has been sought. Requests for the use of such advanced treatments is examined by a planned panel of experts, and approved by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

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