Visitors gather around a large snow sculpture called the snow 'Star Wars' produced by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Sapporo snow festival cooperation group during the 66th annual Sapporo Snow Festival on February 5, 2015. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)
The government plans to draw up by May a set of measures to help medical institutions avoid having problems with foreign tourists over the payment of medical expenses and differences in customs, government sources said Thursday.
With more and more foreigners traveling to Japan, the government will soon launch a working group to discuss the matter. Measures that may be considered include making a unified manual for hospitals in dealing with foreign patients and encouraging local governments to offer consultation services.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan has continued to rise over recent years on the back of a weaker yen and relaxed visa requirements for tourists, with the figure hitting a record 28.69 million in 2017 from 8.61 million in 2010.
At the same time, the government is concerned over a growing number of unpaid medical bills by foreigners, some of whom come to Japan without travel insurance, and other problems stemming from differences in customs.
In one case, a woman who gave birth prematurely during her trip was unable to pay the 8 million yen ($75,000) bill and the medical institution concerned sought donations from foreign residents in Japan to cover the expenses, according to the sources.
In another case, a medical institution experienced problems in completing the procedures of sending back the body of a foreigner who died due to an acute disease.
The working group, to be set up under a government task force on health care and medical policies, will be joined by officials of relevant ministries, the Japan Medical Association and hospital groups.
The participants will also discuss ways to encourage medical institutions to hire more interpreters and introduce translation devices. They will also consider the need to create a system to reduce the financial burden the institutions may have to bear when a problem occurs.