Similar to the healthcare systems in other industrialized countries, the Japanese healthcare system is facing the problem of increasing medical expenditure. In Japan, this situation may be primarily attributed to advanced technological developments, an aging population, and increasing patient demand. Japan also faces the problem of a declining youth population due to a low birth rate. Taken together, these problems present the healthcare system with a very difficult financial situation. Several reforms have been undertaken to contain medical expenditure, such as increasing employee copayment for health insurance from 10% to 20% in 1997 and from 20% to 30% in 2003 in order to curb unnecessary visits to medical institutions. Since the aging of the Japanese population is inevitable, a suitable method to contain medical expenditure may be to screen individuals who are likely to develop lifestyle-related diseases and conduct early intervention programs for them to prevent the development of diseases such as myocardial infarction or stroke that are costly to treat. If this goal is attained, it may contribute to the containment of medical expenditure as well as to improving the quality of life of the elderly. Therefore, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has decided to introduce a nationwide health screening and intervention program specifically targeting the metabolic syndrome commencing April 2008. Here, we discuss (1) the background of the Japanese healthcare system and the problems facing it, (2) the underlying objective and details of the new screening program, and (3) the expected impact of the program.
2008 by the International Heart Journal Association