Japanese who traveled to the United States to get new hearts were charged as much as about $1.63 million for the operation in 2008, or five times higher than in previous years, medical sources well-versed in organ transplants said Thursday.

The figures indicate that Japanese and other foreign patients who are going overseas for transplant surgery are being gouged.

Although it was not immediately clear why the fees suddenly rose in 2008, it may be an indication that U.S. hospitals are trying to put priority on their own citizens.

The average fee charged to 42 Japanese who went to the U.S. for heart transplants between 1998 and 2008 rose to about ¥80 million last year, compared with between ¥30 million and ¥70 million in the past, they said.

One child patient was charged as much as ¥160 million for the operation last year, while another was required to put down a deposit of ¥400 million in March, the sources said.

In the U.S., the only country that accepts Japanese for heart transplants, nationals are charged $300,000 on average in hospital and physician fees for the operation, they said, adding that the figure does not include pre- and posttreatment fees.

The revelation surfaced as the Diet passed a revision to the controversial organ transplant law the same day. The revision would lift a ban that prevented those under 15 from donating their organs. The new bill, which was sent to the Upper House, would allow harvesting if the child did not object to organ donation and the parents agree.

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