Apologies for digging up a diary I posted on January 23rd, but I think it's become relevant again in light of "Queen of All Wingnuts" Michelle Bachmann's recent comments on Japanese healthcare. Here's how I started back then...
UPDATE: I should note that I'm writing this as an ex-pat in Japan and my experiences with public health described here are with the Japanese public health system.
Posted this to my Facebook account a few minutes ago:
I went to an orthopedist today to check a nagging shoulder pain. Thought it might be a stress fracture. Consultation, x-rays, anti-inflammatory injection, one-week prescription of pain killers - about $25. Sushi lunch for 2 just after the doctor - about $25. I love Japan. Stupid American healthcare.
More after the break.
For those who didn't see Bachmann's latest round of crazy, here's what she said:
BACHMANN:He said that in Japan, to wait and get health care is almost impossible. You get on a list and you wait and you wait and you wait. But he said this is something people don’t know: in Japan, people have stopped voicing their opinion on health care. There are things that are wrong with Japanese health care, but people are afraid of voicing. ‘Well why is that,’ I asked. [He said], ‘Because they know that would get on a list and they wouldn’t get health care. They wouldn’t get in. They wouldn’t get seen. And so people are afraid. They’re afraid to speak back to government. They’re afraid to say anything.’ Is that what we want for our future? That takes us to gangster government at that point!
Video courtesy of TPM:
The Japanese aren't really known for their great democratic public sphere or for openly voicing political criticisms of their system. It's not their cultural way. That said, the reason that the Japanese don't complain about their healthcare is that it's so bloody good. (Of course there are problems, but by and large it's a terrific system.)
If one looks back at the roots of Japan's system, it predates the Post-War Occupation, however the earlier period of McArthur's stewardship of occupied Japan saw significant democratization that is described at Wikipedia thus:
In 1946, the Diet ratified a new Constitution of Japan which followed closely a 'model copy' prepared by the GHQ/SCAP (namely the organization headed by Gen. MacArthur that was responsible for conducting the Occupation), and was promulgated as an amendment to the old Prussian-style Meiji Constitution. "The political project drew much of its inspiration from the US Bill of Rights, New Deal social legislation, the liberal constitutions of several European states and even the Soviet Union... (It) transferred sovereignty from the Emperor to the people in an attempt to depoliticize the Throne and reduce it to the status of a state symbol. Included in the revised charter was the famous 'no war', 'no arms' Article Nine, which outlawed belligerency as an instrument of state policy and the maintenance of a standing army. The 1947 Constitution also enfranchised women, guaranteed fundamental human rights, strengthened the powers of Parliament and the Cabinet, and decentralized the police and local government." Shinto was abolished as a state religion. On April 10, 1946, an election that saw 78.52% voter turnout among men and 66.97% among women gave Japan its first modern prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida.
Critics of the Occupation can point to a lot of coerced changes in Japanese society that included liberalization policies in the Japanese economy as democratization waned. There has also been reporting by the New York Times about CIA involvement in squashing communism in favor of the business friendly Liberal Democratic Party (which was recently swept out for the first time...really ever.) Talk about secret plots Michelle!!
Japan likes its care, and just as you'd find in other social democracies the Japanese would fight tooth and nail to keep it. That's what is never reported in the US. Despite their flaws, social democratic policies, especially related to public health, work and work well. Now, back to my original diary and my experience with this excellent Japanese system that Michelle Bachmann thinks is a plot of some kind...
I've been living in Japan for 6 years now. While here, I've enjoyed various experiences with their healthcare system, including doctor's visits, yearly check-ups, great dentist care, eye care, and even a couple of ambulance rides. I happily experienced the birth of my two children, including one harrowing emergency C-section for my son. My kids both received FREE healthcare for the 1st year of their lives, and have a very low cap set on the amount we have to spend on their care each month. Beyond the cap (a few thousand yen - $20 or $30, maybe) it's all FREE.
My trip to the orthopedist today was typical of my routine visits to the doctor in Japan. I walked in with no appointment, passed along my national insurance card, and waited about 15-20 minutes to see the doctor. I was out of there in less than an hour with two consultations, x-rays, the aforementioned injection, and a prescription for a week of painkillers. If I had wanted to have other work done, there's an in house MRI machine and corresponding technician. I should also mention that I live in a small suburban area of rural Japan. The waiting room was relatively busy, especially with seniors. It's efficient, modern, friendly, and of very good quality.
The reason I decided to diary this today is because I've often had internet discussions with people back home about my life here and about my political views in general. Being here has made me realize that the United States is the worst country in the world. I should say, the worst industrialized democracy in the world, or something to that effect. The American people are being duped and stepped on by the broken system. The blind, deaf, and dumb politicians are in bed with the greedy, power hungry corporations and there are plenty of vultures clinging on to them to get the scraps. Lobbyists, think tanks, Congressional staffers, lawyers, and so on.
The problem is that the US is locked in the same back and forth between corporatist hawks from the conservative Right and corporatist Third Ways types on the Democratic Left. The Righties get the Anti-Choice, evangelicals and teabaggers to support them and drum up enthusiasm and the Democrats rely on their diverse coalition for the same. The Republicans have Fox to do their bidding, while the Dems generally rely on CNN and other mainstream outlets that the wingnuts like to call the liberal elite media. The problem that I have discovered, or rather which has become even more apparent, from my interactions with Republicans I know is that there is no Left in America.
We're the Left, yes, but there is virtually no one representing us in our government or in the media. You can count the real Lefties in media on two hands with fingers left over, and in government it would be a pretty short list. When the Republicans I know attack my views with nonsense talking points about elite liberal media and such, I ask them why Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky can't get on a Sunday morning show. Why isn't Ralph Nader on television more. My views aren't reflected in any of the legislation that goes through Congress, most of the policy that comes out of the White House, and virtually nothing on television, save Maddow and Moyers, is anything I feel strongly associated with. I'm not even a person who considers himself a raging Liberal. I'm liberal on many things, and radical on others, but overall I choose to call myself progressive because it is traditionally seen as non-ideological, pragmatic, and willing to consider conservative views (in the sense that conservation is an important aspect of conservative views).
Where is my representation? The government has either been from the Nixon/Reagan/Bush school of politics for several generations, or from the Third Way Clinton/Tony Blair/Junichi Koizumi type political school. Obama is slightly more progressive than the Third Way/DLC types, but our government as a whole is not in the least.
The Koizumi era ended in Japan and his ruling Party, the LDP, passed the torch to a number of awful prime ministers. They let the whole Third Way foundation in Japan crumble underneath them (thankfully). The new coalition are a combination of social democrats, socialists, and moderates. One piece of legislation that was put on the table was a $300/month allowance for every child under the age of 13. With the economic downturn and some concern over out of control spending, an income ceiling has been attached to that plan. That said, can you imagine this kind of legislation making past the laugh factor in the United States, let alone have an excellent chance of passing in some form?
This is the kind of government that a social democracyenjoys. Certainly, there are issues. There are flaws, and points of honest contention to be had. Fiscal responsibility still has an important place in any system, and especially so in a State that adopted social welfare measures as an important aspect of its platform. What America needs is a strong and viable Social Democratic Party. The presence of such a Party, now only found in the House Progressive Caucus, would put a lot more pressure on the ConservaDems and the Third Way types to stay to the Left. It would legitimize the agenda that we all want to see passed. At this point, we have no real representation. We have the Democratic Party.
But...I have healthcare in Japan that costs the same as sushi-for-two. Think about it.