St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. The health ministry says there has been an increase in cases where foreign tourists have not paid their medical expenses while in Japan. Photo: WIKIPEDIA
The health ministry will launch a survey to look into medical expenses paid by foreign tourists to deal with an apparent increase in unpaid cases, a source close to the matter said recently.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will study the total amount of unpaid bills and number of cases at 7,000 hospitals nationwide and consider measures to address the issue after compiling a report based on the survey’s results by March, the source said.
About 30 percent of hospitals in Osaka that provided medical care and treatment to foreign tourists said in a government survey last year that they had not received payments in some cases.
According to the tourism agency, roughly 30 percent of foreigners visit Japan without travel insurance covering medical costs.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan nearly tripled to a record 24.04 million in 2016 from 8.61 million in 2010 and is expected to continue to rise.
The government is aiming for 40 million tourists by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics Games, and 60 million by 2030.
Nonlife insurance companies are cooperating with the tourism agency, offering new insurance covering medical costs that foreign tourists can buy after arriving in Japan.
Toshiki Mano, a professor at Tama University, said hospital operators need special services such as interpreter assistance to prevent medical services from being left unpaid by foreign tourists.
The government could set up a scheme with other countries to help hospitals collect payments for emergency treatment more easily, he added.
The average amount of unpaid medical bills, including those of Japanese patients, stood at 50.18 million yen ($446,000) per hospital at the end of fiscal 2014, up 15.7 percent from the year before, according to a survey by the ministry.