Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced a plan to expand so-called mixed medical treatments (kongo shinryo), in which drugs and medical technologies not covered by public health insurance are used along with those that are. The new policy, to go into force in fiscal 2016 at the earliest, may help some patients who want to try and can afford to pay for new drugs and treatment methods, although the risk of safety problems may persist.

The Abe administration sees the expansion of mixed treatment as a key component of its economic growth strategy, hoping that businesses will increase investment in the development of advanced medical care. But this policy could result in more drugs and treatment methods that fall outside price controls of the public health insurance system and are out of reach for low-income patients. That would distort the nature of Japan's medical services. The administration needs to realize that health care is not an industry but rather a social service to which every citizen is entitled.

The health insurance system covers drugs and medical technologies only after their safety and efficacy have been confirmed. To protect patients, the health and welfare ministry prohibits mixed medical treatments in principle. If patients opt for mixed treatment, they are currently required to shoulder the full cost of the drugs and technologies already approved and covered by public health insurance, in addition to paying the full cost of services not covered by the system. Under the plan pushed by the Abe administration, the full-payment principle will be applied only to drugs and medical technologies not covered by the health insurance system.