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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002

LIFELINES

Check-up costs, parking perils, and 'quake advice


Health check-ups

I'm not feeling well and feel I need to get a complete checkup or physical. It is my understanding that the national health insurance only covers diagnosed illness but not such preventive care. What can I do? -- Phillip in Tokyo

Dear Phillip in Tokyo,

That is a tricky one. Technically, you are right. While many are quick to criticize the National Health Insurance program it does work quite well. The main problems are, as you have pointed out, a number of specific restrictions, the 'assembly line' form of medicine, where the average is four minutes per doctor visit, and the high price if you have a large income.

At the same time, the system is surprisingly flexible. First, get your own 'family doctor.' We have a wonderful doctor that has treated our family for many years. He or she knows you, will take the time you need and is always there to help.

Second, find creative ways to work within the system. For example, in your specific case, while you cannot get a physical or checkup, you can get a complete physical or checkup in connection with an illness. The next time you are sick, ask for a complete checkup. If it is done not on a stand alone basis, but at the same time as treatment for an ailment, it can be covered.

Third, have a backup private insurance program that can be used when the National Health Insurance program doesn't cover everything.

Remember, it also covers dental and, for many people one of the most important aspects of all, there is no 'pre-existing condition' restriction.

Again, we go to you our readers. Please let us know your experiences with the National Health Insurance program. Did you have a good experience? A bad experience? Let us know. Your input will be a big help to others.

Parking perils

I got a parking ticket. It was for parking in front of my own office. I can't believe the cost -- nearly 30,000 yen. Is there anything I can do about this? -- Mad

Dear Mad,

You are in more hot water than you know. In addition to the 30,000 yen fee, you now have two points against your license. With six points you lose your license.

The 30,000 yen is divided this way. 15,000 yen is the fine. The other 15,000 yen (this depends on how long your car is left at the towing facility) is for the towing charge.

It seems quite big, but the reason is that, particularly in Tokyo, illegal parking is a huge problem. The method for dealing with it has been to make illegal parking a major 'crime.' A regular infraction will usually be around 6,000 yen and one point, but parking is especially severe.

The good news, though, is that generally if you go for three months with no other 'crime,' your record should be cleared. When you are ticketed, ask to deal with someone who can speak English and they will connect you to an English speaking center. Alternatively, have them call The Japan Helpline at 0570-000-911. You should insist on having someone that can speak English so you can be sure of what the charge is, try to somehow explain if there is a problem and make sure of how long you need to go with a clear record to have your license cleared.

If all else fails and you do get six points on your license, and it is canceled, you can usually have your record cleared with a one-day "driving seminar."

Quake prone

We have recently moved to Japan and are quite concerned by the stories of earthquakes and have even experienced some. What should we do to prepare, and is there anything we should know? -- Recently moved

Dear Recently Moved,

Japan is truly an island of earthquakes. When we were kids and didn't understand the danger, we would run upstairs where it would shake more to enjoy the event -- we could hear mom on the first floor praying "God, keep us safe" while we were shouting "more, more."

Tokyo is long overdue for a massive earthquake and it is something to really be prepared for.

First, and most important is to be registered with your local embassy. In case something does happen, they will know where you are and be able to compile this information.

Second, is to have a family gathering point -- a place where you agree to meet -- a park, a school, somewhere you all know.

Third, have at least three days of supplies, including food, blankets, water and cash stowed somewhere safe.

On Oct. 7th at 6:30 p.m., the Women's Group of The Tokyo American Club is holding their annual Disaster Awareness Program, which is open to the general public. Aswell as offering a chance to sign up at your embassy, the fire department and other experts will speak and then take questions.

You can get information at 03-3583-8381.

Ken Joseph Jr. is the director of The Japan Helpline ( www.jhelp.com)


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