2018 Volume 244 Issue 2 Pages 163-173
Healthcare utilization after natural disasters remains understudied. In general, people in Japan pay 10%-30% of total amount of costs, according to their health insurance plan. A policy exempting survivors from copayments was introduced after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, which had a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale and followed by devastating tsunamis. Among the disaster-affected areas, Miyagi prefecture experienced the largest number of deaths and the greatest extent of damage. However, the exemption was suspended in Miyagi prefecture from April, 2013, because of the huge governmental financial burden due to the immensity of damage from the disaster. Subsequently, in April 2014, the exemption was re-introduced, with smaller coverage. We, therefore, evaluated the influence of this policy change on monthly healthcare utilization in Miyagi prefecture between April 2008 and June 2015. We also evaluated the association between the proportion of people exempted from copayment in each municipality and the difference in healthcare utilization before and after the suspension using multivariable linear regression. Healthcare utilization in Miyagi increased immediately after the institution of the exemption policy and it peaked after one year. In March 2013, just before the suspension, a rapid increment in healthcare utilization was observed, suggesting that the copayment may be a barrier for people in the disaster-affected area to access to healthcare. The exemption policy did help the survivors to use healthcare utilization in Miyagi. After devastating natural disasters, policymakers should guarantee that all survivors can utilize healthcare services on demand.