Japan PM's push to spur med tech growth draws major opposition

In what could generate major opportunity for the med tech industry, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to liberalize the country's universal health insurance system, in part, to boost use of cutting-edge devices. But, as Reuters reports, opposition remains fierce.

But as Reuters reports, the Japan Medical Association (a major physician lobbying group) and health ministry officials themselves are continuing to resist the change, arguing that it could widen the gap between care options for rich and poor patients.

What is at issue is Japan's four health insurance coverage options. As Reuters explains, they offer the same level of coverage at the same prices, but require patients to pay out-of-pocket for any device or drug treatment the options don't already cover, save for some life-saving exceptions. Abe wants to liberalize the system to offer an impetus for newer and more innovative devices and treatments. And some business leaders want the deregulation to go even further to give private providers more of a role in Japanese healthcare, which they say would help spur further demand for new med tech and drug treatments.

The argument for some degree of privatization and modernization of the country's universal health system: presenting different options in terms of quality and price will spur competition, innovation and economic growth. Larger health systems would also gain new clout by offering the latest in device and drug treatment options, the story notes.

Opponents told Reuters that the end result would leave parallel medical systems, where many receive the universal coverage, and then those who can afford to do so gain the more expensive and advanced treatment options left outside of the current system.

Abe first proposed the idea in June and recently reiterated his intentions. And the debate in one of the world's largest medical device market continues.

- read the full Reuters story