03/24/2014, 00.00
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Tokyo aims to curb health care costs: "Keep the elderly at home, stop long term hospitalizations"

The country is aging at a seemingly unstoppable pace, the birth rate continues to decline and the cost of the hospital sector soars to 350 billion Euros per year. The government is trying to lower the numbers and announces a reduction in reimbursements for surgically inserted feeding tubes, which currently include 260 thousand elderly.

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - In an attempt to reduce public spending in the health sector, the Japanese government has announced that it would cut the number of elderly hospitalized and fed through feeding tubes. The government has announced reimbursement for health care costs in the home and asked has public hospitals to speed up rehab for patients on feeding tubes to help discharge patients from hospitals quicker. This means about 260 thousand patients throughout the country.

Tokyo currently spends about 39 thousand billion yen (350 billion euro) on national healthcare costs. According to national economists this is too much, especially in light of the heavy debt that the Shinzo Abe government continues to increase within the disputed "Abenomics" policies that guide public spending. Added to this the fact that health care costs will continue to rise, given that the Japanese birth rate is among the lowest in the world and therefore the aging population is predominant.

In absolute terms, the population declined by 244 thousand units in 2013; births were 1.031 million, a decrease of 6 thousand units compared to 2012 , the number of deaths increased by 19 thousand units, amounting to 1.275 million in total. It is a record drop in the birth rate for the Land of the Rising Sun, the seventh consecutive year of decline in births and the 33rd with regard to young people under 15 years of age, an ever shrinking category. According to data from the National Institute of Population and Social Security, a quarter of the Japanese population (which has about 128 million people) is over 65, by 2060 the percentage will rise to 40%.

Given these numbers hospital procedures have become standard. Approximately 260 thousand elderly - with an average age of 81 - are long-term hospitalized and fed through feeding tubes. But these tubes according to the government - and in the West there are hardly any - are inserted in 25% of cases without any real need, and thus become an unnecessary expense for the government.

Tokyo has announced a cut in reimbursements for these surgical implants and an increase for those who decide to carry out the treatments at home as of April 1. Kazuhiro Nagao, medical director and vice director of  the Japanese Society for a dignified death , says: " Eating is one of the most important factors in the field of human dignity. The nation is moving to protect it".


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