Japan’s cancer refugees

For many, Japan's health care system seems like the perfect system. Perhaps it is – unless you actually need to use it, says Peter J. Pitts, director of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former associate commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Just look at cancer:

  • U.S. deaths as a result of cancer have slowly and steadily fallen for years; today, only 180 per 100,000 deaths are attributable to cancer – a record low.

  • Japan's cancer death rate, on the other hand, is actually headed upward; over the last 10 years, its rate has climbed from 200 to 250 per 100,000 deaths.

  • In fact, cancer is Japan's leading cause of death, accounting for 326,000 deaths in 2005, more than heart attacks and strokes combined.

  • In total, cancer accounts for 30 per cent of Japan's deaths each year.

    How did this happen? Like every other state-administered system, Japan keeps its health costs low by denying access to new and expensive treatments:

  • Only last April, for example, a Japanese medical board began certifying oncologists, the specialised doctors who administer chemotherapy drugs; that same certification process began in the United States nearly 35 years ago.

  • In Japan, a single doctor – without any certification for specialised cancer therapy – will often diagnose a patient's cancer and carry out his treatment.

  • In the United States, it's not uncommon for entire teams of specialised oncologists, doctors and other health-care professionals to discuss treatment options for a single patient.

    When politicians and government policymakers make health-care decisions for their citizens, there are off-the-books costs. Complete information about illnesses and independent control of treatment are just two casualties of government planning that don't show up in budget annals or official government statistics, says Pitts.

    Source: Peter J. Pitts, Japan's cancer refugees, Washington Times, February 23, 2007.

    For text: http://www.washingtontimes.com/commentary/20070222-084946-2121r.htm

    For more on Health Issues: http://www.ncpa.org/sub/dpd/index.php?Article_Category=16

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 27 February 2007
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