TOKYO - Coronavirus patients will generally be required to pay for their own medical expenses after the legal status of COVID-19 is downgraded to the same category as common infectious diseases on May 8, the Japanese government said Friday.
Under the reclassification of COVID-19 to Class 5 diseases like seasonal influenza, the government will also aim to increase the number of medical institutions that provide outpatient COVID-19 treatments by 50 percent, while expensive drugs will continue to be subsidized until the end of September.
"We are shifting from a special response by a limited number of medical institutions supported by the government, to a normal response by a wide range of medical institutions," Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference Friday.
In Japan, COVID-19 is currently designated as a special category equivalent to or stricter than Class 2, which covers infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, under the law.
With the exception of initial consultation fees, patients are currently not charged for outpatient care or hospitalization.
While hospitalization expenses are to be paid out-of-pocket after the classification downgrade, they will be covered under a system which caps the amount to be paid each month, with the ceiling to be further lowered by up to 20,000 yen ($146).
The government will also continue to subsidize expensive drugs such as molnupiravir, which costs nearly 100,000 yen per outpatient, although patients will be asked to pay for general treatments such as antipyretics and tests.
The number of medical institutions accepting fever outpatients will be increased from around 42,000 to around 64,000 by utilizing internal medicine and pediatric departments that treat seasonal influenza.
Patients needing more serious care will be hospitalized at one of 5,000 medical institutions that have treated COVID-19 patients in the past, with plans to increase the number to 8,000 in the future.
The coordination of hospitalizations that have been handled by the government will be gradually transferred to medical institutions, with prefectural governments to draw up a transition plan by the end of April.
While government subsidies provided to medical institutions for accepting COVID-19 patients will be phased out or reduced, some rehabilitation facilities will be given new financial support to encourage the provision of long-term care to the elderly.