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Health ministry to introduce standard medical pricing methods to charge foreigners

A staffer at a medical institution in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward shows a tablet with an interpretation application for foreign patients in this file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has decided to introduce standard methods to calculate the costs of services associated with medical treatment for foreign nationals, such as interpretation, by the end of March, according to people familiar with the decision.

The ministry is taking the action so that medical institutions can have foreign patients shoulder an appropriate amount of the cost. The move comes as the number of foreigners in Japan is expected to increase in April with the government's new policy of expanding the workforce by accepting foreign workers amid acute labor shortages, those people said. The continuing rise in the number of foreign visitors to the country is another factor, they added.

The health ministry hopes that the standard methods will prevent confusion in pricing for services associated with medical care, which vary substantially among hospitals. A 2016 ministry survey shows that 80 percent of medical facilities did not charge foreign patients for services such as providing interpreters or nurses with foreign language skills.

Hiring interpreters and nurses with the command of foreign languages can cost between 18 million and 26 million yen per year at a medium-sized hospital with 50 foreign patients per month, according to a ministry estimate. In addition, preparing a multilingual website can cost between 500,000 and 2 million yen.

In contrast, some hospitals charge foreign patients two to three times the fees for Japanese patients. Complaints about pricey medical bills from foreigners have reached the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, including one complaint from a Chinese national that a university hospital charged them nearly 50,000 yen to have a fish bone removed from their throat.

The ministry intends to devise calculation methods that are convincing and acceptable to foreign patients. One possible method is specifying additional costs on top of treatment fees in explanatory materials, those people said.

(Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Medical Welfare News Department)

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