Every time I hear Americans talk about socialized medicine in other countries, I can't help feeling that they are terribly misinformed. It's a shame really. If they knew more about the reality of the healthcare systems in Europe and here in Japan, even the most conservative among them might be able to tone down the hyperbole and come to accept that compared to the U.S. people in those other countries have it so much better.
For one, it doesn't cost much at all to give birth in Japan. Most if not all of the modest $5000-cost of having a baby (which includes the prenatal care and a five-night stay in the hospital) is covered by subsidies aimed at encouraging Japanese to have babies. In the past, a couple would have been asked to pay the bill upfront upon being discharged and get reimbursed later by the state, but today the state pays the hospital directly. Our first child didn't cost us a cent.
In the U.S. the price of giving birth can vary greatly depending on where and how the baby is delivered--more for c-sections or other complications, of course--and whether or not the mother is insured. Some insurance plans in America do not include childbirth, forcing parents to virtually put their child on consignment. (The liberal that I am, my head is shaking in disbelief.) I know one woman, a Filipino-American, who moved to Japan in the final two months of her pregnancy in order to give birth here, because that was the cheaper option. (Obviously, she is a commie pinko.) Incidentally, even foreigners are able to receive these benefits.
What's more, visits to the pediatrician and medicine for children is covered by the prefecture up to, I believe, junior high school age, which means there is one less thing parents in Japan need to budget for. Whenever our son is sick or hurt, the cost of the treatment or drugs never comes into consideration: we head straight to the pediatrician or hospital.
And the hospital or clinic we go to is entirely our choice.
Many Americans worry that by going the socialized medicine route, they will be giving up the freedom to choose their own doctor. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In Japan, we go to wherever we like, see whomever we like.
And we seldom have to wait. My son's pediatric clinic, for example, has an online appointment system. Appointments can be made automatically by email or over the Internet, enabling parents to time their arrival to ten minutes or so prior to having their child seen by the doctor.
As for the clinics themselves, many of them are modern and clean. Fukuoka Birth Clinic pictured here is a new OB/GYN hospital opened a year and a half ago by a friend of mine. We will be having our second child delivered at this clinic.
There is a "roof balcony" on the fourth floor of the hospital allowing mothers to go outside and get some fresh air.
I haven't been to the clinic in some time, so I don't know how the plants have grown or what kinds of flowers are growing in this massive planter.
There are three types of rooms (all single occupancy) for mothers. Women generally spend five nights in the hospital during which time they are taught how to bathe, feed, and change their baby. These long stays is one reason why the infant mortality rate is so low in Japan, second only to Monaco. There are, incidentally, only 2.21 deaths of infants under one year of age per 1,000 live births in Japan, compared to 6.00 in the United States. America is ranked a dismal fifty-first.
Dining room with Arne Jacobsen ant chairs. Nice touch.
Open space allows for lots of sunshine and good circulation of air.
Private room for mother to relax in while she is experiencing labor pains.
Play area for children.
Our doctor and friend himself.
Let me tell you, if this is the face of socialism, bring it on!