The financial burden of a long-term illness such as cancer can be devastating, with as much as 66% of the costs of cancer being nonmedical. These financial concerns are leading some Americans to buy insurance policies that, upon diagnosis of cancer, assist them in paying for their care.
Several companies now offer disease-specific insurance policies for cancer, with the industry leader being American Family Life Assurance Company (AFLAC).
AFLAC built this program by selling cancer insurance to the Japanese, starting in 1974 when they became the second foreign company licensed in Japan. AFLAC currently has a monopoly in Japan, insuring 20% of the Japanese. The $7.2 billion company receives 85% of its revenues from Japanese operations.
Understanding the factors that made cancer insurance successful in Japan may assist policy makers in eval-uating strategies for cancer insurance policies in America. However, cultural considerations clearly differ between the two countries.
The Japanese population is one of the healthiest in the world. Japan provides universal access for its 127 million citizens and has the highest life expectancy of any industrialized nation (76.1 years for males and 82.1 years for females), as well as the lowest infant mortality rate (0.5%)[3,4].
These statistics, however, overshadow trends for cancer. Cancer-related deaths in Japan have risen sharply over the past 50 years, and in 1992, 188 of every 100,000 Japanese died of cancer, making it Japan's number one cause of death.