LDP may ease costs of elderly health care

Kyodo News

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is discussing whether to raise from 50 percent to 55 percent the portion paid out of public funds to cover medical-care costs for so-called latter-stage elderly people aged 75 and older, according to party sources.

The move suggests the LDP expects to come up with a plan to revise the health-care system for such elderly people by next spring, when the House of Representatives may be dissolved for a general election.

The government said it may review the system by next autumn following a year of debate after Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe proposed a revision in September. The LDP hopes it can lead the talks by presenting a revision plan around February or March.

Elderly people currently bear 10 percent of medical costs, but some LDP members are calling for lowering the portion to 5 percent by raising that of public funds to 55 percent, according to the sources.

The revision would also include lowering the starting age for the category to 65 from the current 75 and possibly changing the name of the system because it has drawn fire from many seniors, the sources said.

They are unhappy about being categorized as “latter-stage” elderly, as it gives an impression that they would die soon.

Kochi has most M.D.s

There were twice as many hospital doctors per 100,000 residents in the best-served prefecture than in the worst-served one in 2007, according to a recent health ministry survey, which revealed the extent of the regional gap in medical services.

Kochi Prefecture had 212.1 hospital doctors per 100,000 residents as of Oct. 1, 2007, the most among the 47 prefectures, followed by Fukuoka with 184.9 doctors, Kyoto and Tokushima with 184.1 each and Tokyo with 183.8, according to the survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

In contrast, Saitama, the worst-served prefecture, had 99.5 doctors per 100,000 people, followed by Chiba with 111.1, Gifu with 111.5 and Ibaraki with 112.1, according to the ministry.

The national average stood at 143.9 hospital doctors per 100,000 residents, and 23 prefectures were ranked below that level, the survey showed.

“In Saitama Prefecture, doctors and patients tend to work or receive treatment in Tokyo, so the survey does not simply show that the medical environment in Kochi is more than two times better than in Saitama,” a ministry official said.

The government said Tuesday it will set up a task force headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso to seek ways to correct regional medical problems, including the lack of doctors and ways to improve the emergency transport system.