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Medical expenses in Japan in fiscal 2020, which ended in March this year, fell a record 3.2% from the previous year to ¥42.16 trillion, the health ministry said in a preliminary report Tuesday.

The amount of money paid to medical institutions for treating diseases and injuries fell for the first time in four years, as people refrained from going to the doctor on fears of contracting the novel coronavirus.

The decline is also attributed to a decrease in influenza and other patients as people followed such hygiene practices as wearing face masks and washing their hands amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of influenza patients is estimated to have plunged to about 14,000 from nearly 7.3 million in the previous season, according to the health ministry.

Expenses for inpatient treatment decreased 3.4% to ¥17 trillion and those for outpatient treatment fell 4.4% to ¥14 trillion.

Costs for dental patients went down 0.8% and drug-dispensing costs dropped 2.7%.

By disease type, expenses for treating respiratory illness dropped 25.3% to ¥1.67 trillion, with those related to COVID-19 totaling around ¥120 billion.

By clinical department, pediatricians saw the largest fall of 22.2% in medical expenses, followed by otolaryngologists, with a 19.7% drop.

Meanwhile, costs for medical treatment for children of preschool age or younger, in particular, plunged 19.1%.

Per capita medical expenses came to ¥335,000, down by ¥10,000. Medical costs for those age 75 or over averaged ¥920,000, over four times the average of ¥219,000 for those under 75.

The reported medical expenses represent the total amount of payments from the public health insurance system, taxpayers’ money and out-of-pocket costs shouldered by patients. Medical costs fully paid by patients and those covered by the worker compensation system are not included.

The preliminary total accounts for about 98% of all national medical expenses in Japan in fiscal 2020.

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