Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nationalized Insurance Anecdotes, pt 2

I got a panicked phone call from my youngest son during class last night: "Dad, come home soon!"  I headed home between classes, and found him broken out into hives, nipple to shoulder blade and shoulder to mid-chest and elbow.  Some of those puppies were the size of my thumb; he looked quite uncomfortable.

Since I had another class, my daughters helped out and took him to the skin doctor down the street, then to the pharmacy and home.

Doctor's consult, steroid cream and oral allergy medicine.  Total cost?  $28

And no deductible.

More Stereotypes

OK, let's knock down a few stereotypes, shall we?

 *Are you an anime fan who expects to see robots walking down the street, along with doe-eyed maids in super-short skirts, emo-haired boys who look and sound like girls, and Super SayaJin fighters with can-a-day hairstyles who can throw fire? Please stay home, because you will be severely disappointed (as will I, if you come).
      While a lot of people do read the manga here, on the train, at the convenience store (they don't tell you to "buy it or leave" here), or at home, it by no means is the center of people's daily lives. The self-proclaimed "otaku" (which, by the way, is extremely uncomplimentary, meaning unhygienic fanatical pervert - a famous one killed 4 girls in Tokyo, drank the blood of one and ate part of her hand) almost certainly have read more, and obsessed more about the manga than the average Japanese. Cosplay, while reasonably accepted here, is really no more prevalent here than here than in the States, and only indulged in in particular areas like Akihabara or Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The only emo-haired boys are JPop idols or wannabes, and any person with eyes like in a manga would scare the bejeezus outa me!

 *Are you a martial artist who watched too many "Karate Kid" movies, with dreams of ninja on the streets, along with maids in kimono and samurai?
      It's a great place to study the martial arts, don't get me wrong. You can find shotokan, aikido, jiu jitsu and judo dojo within 10-minutes drive from my house, and screwing with the wrong person could get you seriously messed up. My older son's school has judo as P.E. once a week, and many high schools have kendo and archery clubs. But you don't see martial artists walking down the street in their gi, nor do you see ninja (which proves nothing at all - they are ninja, after all). The average lady wears a kimono once or twice a year, and may wear the cotton yukata to summer festivals, but otherwise the fashion is the same as what you can buy down the street (just in smaller sizes...), in a "Lolita does Dallas" kind of way.

 *"It's the land of high tech, geek paradise, a real Bladerunner, only not quite so dark (although nearly as rainy)."
     Yes and no. When I came here in 1990, the only high tech was in the factories. Banks performed all transactions on paper, with the teller taking your transaction papers to her immediate supervisor, and he kicking it upstairs for anything other than a routine deposit or bill pay. ATMs were only in bank lobbies, and only open M-F, 8:45-3:00pm. Your monthly salary was handed to you in cash, and since my first payday was on a Friday night, it led to a sleepless weekend.
     PCs were only owned by a very small percentage of the population, and there weren't even pocket pagers. Other than interactive toys, there are no robots in daily life, and most people won't see any voice-recognition software other than their iPhone.

     Communication, however, has become a nerd's wet dream. When then-Prime Minister Mori proposed an ambitious plan to put 90% of the population within reach of affordable broad-band connectivity within 5years (2001), I guffawed. "No friggin' way!" said I. Well, they did it. I had cable Internet 2 years later, graduating to ADSL, and now have optic fiber which boasts trunk line speeds of 1GB, and individual download speeds of up to 100MB/sec. Internet, 2 phone lines and Internet TV run less than $100/month. Most people have cell phones, and a large majority have smart phones or iPhones. Smart phones with unlimited data plans (but not unlimited calls outside the cell company), and with the phone's purchase price paid in over 24 months, will run about $100 as well.

And, last but not least, my personal bane,
*"Japanese women are passive dolls who do whatever their husbands want." You have got to be kidding me. What century do you think this is, exactly? None of the women I know are this way. They aren't the Stepford Wives, they're active, vibrant ladies who rule their homes with an iron fist, controlling the bank book and doling out their husband's allowance every month (betcha think I'm exaggerating, doncha?). The young men that they call "vegetarians" are more passive than any ladies I know.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Summer's Over!

Wow, summer is really over.

Last night it got down to 20 degrees, the lowest temp in about 100 days.  20 degrees!  Unbelievable

Oh, yeah, I forgot, Japan is a metric country.  That's 20 degrees Celsius, 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  For 100 days, the temperature never dropped below 70 degrees.  Today was the first day I've come out of the shower and haven't immediately started sweating.


Nationalized Insurance

Nationalized Insurance

Over the last several years I've been watching the rabid debate about healthcare reform with bemusement.  The sheer amount of vitriol and invective sometimes blows my mind.  I understand both sides of the issue (which doesn't indicate, by the way, agreement with either particular side, merely that I listen before drawing my own conclusions - something that I really wish some folks would try to emulate).

I can, however, give you my own anecdotal experience, having lived in a country which offers national health insurance, and having used the system myself for the last 20 years.

Japan has a national insurance program, which offers coverage at rates set according to your income and family size.  I and my 4 children are on one policy, my wife receives private coverage at her work.  At today's exchange, I pay almost exactly $1000 per month (interestingly enough,  I paid the exact same amount when it was just me, and the children were on my wife's account at her previous job, and again when she changed jobs and wasn't yet covered at work).  For this fee, I get 80/20 coverage, with nearly 100% coverage for young children.  We can go to any doctor or hospital we please,  and while you may need to wait a few hours at a busy doctor's office or clinic, it's no different than any other patient, and there is none of the "we have an open time next Friday at 11:00" bullshit.

Now, this system is not perfect.  With Japan's rapidly aging society, it is creaking under an increasing load, dropping from 90/10 coverage a few years back, and looks likely to drop even further to a 70/30 copay in the future.  But no one is without insurance.  People don't die because they lack coverage (as long as they take the time to actually sign up, that is).  There are no 'death panels' that the scaremongers constantly harp about, deciding who gets coverage.  Medical quality does not suffer because of the insurance system.

In my personal opinion, offering bare bones insurance for those who cannot afford to get their own would be a major cost, perhaps, but it seems to me that it should pretty much balance out with all the uninsured people who now clog American emergency rooms, receiving care for which they cannot pay, the cost of which must be passed on to other patients, thus making the US one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to receive medical care.  I took an ambulance ride after a motorcycle accident in college, and paid $250 for a 3-mile ride, with another $150 for the gauze they used to wrap my open-break toe, and $50 for the iodine they used on the scrapes on my legs (not to mention the $5000 for outpatient surgery to put one 5mm screw in my toe to hold a bone fragment in place).  I paid a hell of a lot less for a vasectomy here in Japan!

And there is the ethical issue.  I'm sorry, but I'd just like to believe that we won't leave people sick or dying when it is within our power to do something about it.  I'm not talking about 'Kicks' and iPhones for people on the dole, just basic human dignity.