Medical expenses paid to medical institutions hit an all-time high of 31.538 trillion yen in the fiscal year ended in March 2004, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Tuesday.

That is an increase of 586.8 billion yen, or 1.9 percent, over the previous year.

The increase was attributed to the aging of the population, which saw average expenses for people aged 70 or older rise by 2,800 yen, reaching 734,400 yen.

Expenses for the elderly alone accounted for 12.416 trillion yen, or 39.4 percent of the total.

Average annual expenses per capita in fiscal 2003 stood at 247,100 yen, up 4,200 yen from fiscal 2002.

The ratio of medical expenses to national income in fiscal 2003 came to 8.55 percent, unchanged from the previous year.

Health insurance covered 15.823 trillion yen, or 50.2 percent, of total medical expenses for the year, while national and local governments paid 10.747 trillion yen, or 34.1 percent. Patients paid 4.945 trillion yen, or 15.7 percent.

Patients’ payments rose 8.0 percent over the previous year as salaried workers’ share of medical expenses rose to 30 percent from 20 percent in April 2003.

Medical expenses for fiscal 2004 have been projected at 31.4 trillion yen, with expenses for elderly people coming to about 40.6 percent.

The estimate usually covers 97 percent of medical expenses actually paid to medical institutions.

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