US Vice President Joe Biden once said that health care is a “big f’in’ deal,” and I tend to agree. I don’t just mean in the US, where Biden was referring to Obamacare, but across the world people value their health care systems
Earlier this year, England recognized its National Health Service with a 10 minute celebration in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. Japan is no different; the country has had nationalized health care for over 50 years.
With all of the fuss about Obamacare in the US, health care around the world has been a particularly interesting subject for Americans recently. Unlike American healthcare, the Japanese health care system is largely nationalized, tightly regulated, and relatively cheap.
It seems to have paid off pretty well, too; life expectancy is pretty high, infant mortality is low, and most of the important stats are right where they should be.
Blah blah blah. I’m sure policy nerds could break down the numbers for you all day. That’s not really what interests me. What’s kind of incredible to me is that many Japanese have physical proof of their participation in the national health care system. A portion of the Japanese have scarring on their arms from — what? Robots? Aliens? Doraemon?!
The scarring comes from a tuberculosis vaccine that nearly every Japanese person gets at around the age of five or so. It scars, unlike other vaccines, because it’s administered with a horrifying syringe — the kind of syringe that children imagine when they refuse to go to the doctor. You know, the kind with nine needles.
Given in recent years, the size of the syringe has gotten increasingly less terrifying, but from an American standpoint it’s interesting that virtually every Japanese man, woman, and child has received this vaccine even though very, very few Americans have.
Why is this? Even though lots of countries around the world administer this vaccine, it’s not seen as necessary in the US. The US government says that the vaccine “
should be considered for only very select people who meet specific criteria and in consultation with a [tuberculosis] expert.”
Instead of vaccinations, the US deals with TB by blowing away the animals that might cause it. Well, kind of. A certain type of deer carry a strain of TB that’s transmittable to humans, and the US permits people to hunt the deer to keep the disease under control.
But I’m getting off track here. These scars interest me so much because they’re very real, physical proof that the Japanese health care system touches nearly every person (often quite literally) in Japan.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all great. We’ve talked before about how frightening Japanese doctors can be, whether it’s not telling you about your cancer or the sometimes strange diagnoses and excessive prescriptions.
There’s unfortunately more though. As the population gets older and older, there are fewer and fewer young people to pay for the higher health care costs of the elderly. Many people think that the current system is completely unsustainable as it stands.
And even the whole thing isn’t working out too great for Japan. Surprisingly according to the World Bank, Japan actually has a higher rate of TB than the US does, once again proving that there’s no problem Americans can’t solve with guns (or something like that).
But this isn’t anything that the Japanese don’t know about already. The aging of the country is the defining demographic issue of our time or, as Joe Biden might say, a big f’in’ deal.