On Nov. 20, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) started discussing whether to apply public health insurance to the treatment of gambling addiction. It is expected that local municipalities will move forward with efforts to host integrated resort facilities that include a casino, and the MHLW intends to accelerate measures to combat gambling addiction. Spending taxpayer money and insurance premiums on the treatment of gambling addiction may invite opposition, however.
The idea was proposed on Nov. 20 at a meeting of the Central Social Insurance Medical Council, an MHLW’s advisory panel. The ministry will draw up a recommendation on the matter with sights set on next year’s Revision of Reimbursement of Medical Fees.
Gambling addiction is a mental illness in which patients are pathologically unable to stop gambling. According to the MHLW, the number of patients is increasing every year, reaching 3,499 in FY 2017, up from 2,019 in FY 2014.
A research team at the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development developed a group therapy program and experimentally implemented it at 35 facilities across the country to treat a total of 187 male and female gambling addicts. Gambling addicts who received the therapy had higher rates of quitting gambling than those who did not.
Currently, medical insurance does not apply to the treatment of gambling addiction. The MHLW regards the therapeutic program as effective and is now considering allowing medical insurance coverage for it. Public medical insurance already applies to the treatment of drug addiction.
Some panel members voiced opposition to applying public medical insurance to gambling addiction, however. One of the opponents asked, “Will public medical insurance also be applied to other addictions?” Another member said, “The trial program had only 187 patients so it is questionable whether the program is really effective.”
The Basic Act on Countermeasures against Gambling Addiction was enacted in July 2018 in preparation for municipalities to host integrated resort facilities. The act requires the government to draw up plans to prevent gambling addiction and rehabilitate addicts. In response, the government is advancing measures to address gambling addiction, including the development of medical facilities specialized in such treatment.