The Health Ministry plans to probe cases of unpaid medical expenses charged to foreign tourists, calling for the use of travel insurance and looking at other ways to tackle the problem.
The Ministry announced last month that it would study the total value of unpaid bills and the number of cases at 7,000 hospitals across the country, reported The Japan Times.
The probe comes amid reports that foreign tourists who underwent treatment at hospitals in Osaka Prefecture, within a three-month period last year. The report was based on responses from 147 hospitals in the prefecture concerning patients treated between May and July 2016. Of 66 hospitals that treated foreign travellers during the period, 20 reported unpaid cases. The agency said that 27 of 375 foreign travellers left the country without paying their bills, including one case worth about JPY8 million. The unpaid bills totalled JPY15.47 million (US$140,000). Given that only some hospitals in the area responded to the survey, the number of cases may be much higher.
The number of foreign visitors nearly tripled to a record 24.04 million in 2016 from 8.61 million in 2010 — and the figure is expected to continue to rise. The government is aiming for 40 million tourists by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympic Games, with a target of 60 million set for 2030.
According to a survey by the tourism agency, the number of foreign travellers who need medical care while in Japan hovers around 4%, meaning that 2,600 required some treatment each day last year.
The Japan Tourism Agency said roughly 30% of inbound tourists visit Japan without travel insurance covering medical costs, and that in some cases travellers do not possess a credit card.
To deal with the problem, insurance companies are cooperating with the tourism agency, offering new plans covering medical costs available for purchase upon arrival in Japan.