Misawa plans health insurance mandate
Stars and Stripes November 8, 2009
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The recent hospitalization of an uninsured visitor to Misawa Air Base is helping drive a new base policy that would require guests to have overseas medical insurance.
The policy is expected to take effect Dec. 1 and would apply only to those staying on the base and not covered by the military’s Tricare insurance plan or a Japanese policy, said spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez.
The uninsured man who was visiting the base was hospitalized at Misawa’s clinic — which has limited medical services — and later treated at a Japanese hospital. He was eventually transferred to a U.S. hospital, Martinez said.
The man has outstanding medical bills with the Japanese hospital, and the base is working out a payment plan, she said. She could not say how much he owed.
In September, Yokota Air Base began requiring visitors have overseas health insurance after similar incidents resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding medical bills, which officials said strained the base’s relationship with local Japanese hospitals.
Tricare refers thousands of troops and civilians to Japanese hospitals annually.
Most Japanese have social or national health insurance that covers 70 percent of their bills. Unlike U.S. hospitals, Japanese medical facilities require payment in full when patients are discharged.
Moreover, U.S. health insurance plans typically do not cover treatment outside the U.S. But overseas health insurance can be purchased for travel purposes for as little as $5 per day.
No other bases in Japan currently have such a policy, the decision for which remains with local commanders, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman said.
After Yokota’s overseas insurance requirement was announced, Lora Sanders-Vanoy, a spokeswoman for Tricare at Yokosuka Naval Base, proposed its hospital follow suit. Commanders have not acted on the proposal because there have been no significant problems recently with uninsured visitors.
"The biggest challenge is showing proof it’s necessary," she said.
A list of overseas health insurance providers can be found at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html .