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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

LIFELINES

Health insurance headaches


D.C. wrote to Lifelines with a question about health insurance.

"I am a U.S. citizen living and working in Japan on a Child of Japanese National visa.

"I currently have health insurance from my city's Shakai Hoken Jimusho (social insurance office) for a limited period of two years as an extension from the company I used to work for.

"The two years will be up soon and I will have to look to a different source for health insurance. Is it cheaper to go through Kokumin Kenko Hoken (the public health insurance system) or one of the variety of private companies that offer health insurance to foreigners?"

First, as long as you have a valid visa you can be part of the Japanese system. You can keep the plan that you have now.

The decision as to whether to use what you have or choose another is a bit more difficult.

For a start, technically you cannot leave the Japanese system once you are in.

Second, as the monthly payments are calculated based on your salary, unless you are being paid quite a lot the cost is minimal.

An option many choose is to have the Japanese insurance system and another supplemental private insurance plan to cover, for example, life insurance and the cost of emergency treatment.

You can get info on the Japanese insurance system at your local city office or www.mhlw.go.jp/english/.

Another good source is the U.S. Embassy Web site at japan.usembassy.gov.

If you have a very high income and the city office will let you withdraw, it is probably better to have private insurance. Generally, though for most people the Japanese insurance with a supplement is the best.

Importantly, there are no "pre-existing condition" requirements when joining the Japanese system, which can be a major problem when you try to get private insurance. This means the insurance won't pay for treatment of a medical condition you already have.

Jane McManus also inquired about health insurance, specifically regarding companies offering plans catering for non-Japanese.

One of the best is Pacific Star Insurance (e-mail y.mine@ybb.ne.jp). Mr. Mine can help you get good insurance coverage for both within Japan and abroad. The policy in Japan can replace the Japanese health insurance program.

In the 'old days,' there were all kinds of firms offering insurance for foreigners in Japan. These days, amazingly, most have left.

"For many reasons nearly all companies providing insurance to the international community in Japan are no longer here," Mine told Lifelines. "Most simply closed their offices. Others are in Japan but provide insurance only for Japanese."

In addition to Pacific Star, Health One offers insurance targeted at non-Japanese. Check www.healthone.jp/ for details.

For most people, however, the Japanese health insurance system is still the best deal in town.

Do any of our readers know of any firms providing insurance deals aimed at the international community in Japan?

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp Ken Joseph directs The Japan Helpline at www.jhelp.com or (0570) 000-911


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