When NHK’s in-depth news program, “Closeup Gendai,” addresses a pressing social issue, it usually offers possible solutions articulated by experts. Two weeks ago, however, the show covered a problem that seems to have no solution. The subject of the opening segment was a middle-aged man who was diagnosed with leukemia 10 years ago. His doctor estimated he had four or five years left to live. Then the anti-cancer drug Glivec was approved by the health ministry. Glivec attacks cancerous cells without destroying healthy cells. It is not a cure, but rather a treatment that prevents the leukemia from worsening.

Glivec is expensive. One pill costs ¥3,128, and a patient needs to take four a day. That adds up to over ¥4.5 million a year. Since Glivec is covered by national health insurance, the patient would pay 30 percent, or around ¥1.35 million a year, but the government also subsidizes approved treatment that is deemed too expensive for some people. Under this kogaku iryo seido (high-cost medical system), the man’s out-of-pocket payments for Glivec was reduced to ¥500,000 a year.

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