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    When you hit bottom, keep drilling

    Oh, for the love of–I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but obviously it’s going to be big news for a while. Not that it shouldn’t be…only, given all the attention we’ve been paying to reform of the postal service lately, you’d think the last thing we’d need is a less sexy scandal. We’ve got one, though: Secret donations to a former Prime Minister by…the Japan Dental Association. At least it wasn’t the podiatrists.

    For those new to this particular item, here’s where it stood a month ago. Note the blasé presentation of this as merely an inflated version of business as usual:

    The JDA provides a typical example of “triangular collusion” among the LDP [This is not because the LDP is an especially venal party; it’s just that it’s the one that has power to peddle.–SRK], bureaucracy and industry. Its former chairman is charged with bribing members of a government panel on medical insurance in an attempt to increase payments for dental services. In April, five men were arrested on bribery charges.

    Hospitals and clinics receive payments at given rates under the medical insurance system, and revising these rates is almost always a politically charged issue. The Japan Dentists Federation, the political arm of the JDA and a major fundraiser for the LDP, contributed about 1.5 billion yen to the party’s campaign-financing organization for three years from 2000. Hashimoto, who formerly served as health and welfare minister, was the boss of LDP legislators who had close ties to the ministry.

    According to investigators, the 100-million yen check was given to Hashimoto at a private meeting with senior JDA officials. At that time, the JDA was fielding a candidate for the 2001 Upper House election. It is reported that the meeting was attended by Hiromu Nonaka, former LDP secretary general and Mikio Aoki, chairman of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, and that both confirmed the check. Hashimoto has said he “does not remember” receiving the money, and both Nonaka and Aoki have denied attending the meeting.

    How can someone not remember a 100-million yen transaction? Prosecutors must meet public expectations by unraveling the whole truth. Failure to do so will seriously damage their reputation. The purpose of the Political Funds Control Law is to “ensure fairness of political activity through public disclosure of incoming and outgoing political funds and thereby contribute to the development of democratic politics.”

    I may add to this later, but for now it seems to me to be pretty much its own commentary. (And that doesn’t even consider the fact that Japanese dental care is about as good as British dental care.)

    4 Responses to “When you hit bottom, keep drilling”

    1. John says:

      Careful about the “sordid world of pahrmaceutical testing and development” – I work there. I can give you stories both pro and con that defy the conventional wisdom. But in Japan it is pretty sordid all around, with the MHLW requiring more stringent testing for foreign firms than domestic ones. The JMA tries to influence drug labels as well: they don’t want drugs with short courses that you prescribe and forget, they want longer courses that keep the patient coming back for refills or check-ups. They also want low-side effect drugs at the expense of efficacy, which is why there are a few cancer drugs so worthless they’re only available in Japan (but you don’t loose your hair…)

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      My understanding is that Japanese efficacy testing is pretty much considered a joke in the rest of the developed world, along with the points you mention. That, along with the glad-handing that affects everything, was my reason for using the word “sordid.” I don’t doubt that there are exceptions. But then, Japan has extremes in plenty of facets of health care. I have a few friends who’ve had cancer treatments and major heart surgery here who’ve said that they got treatment pretty much commensurate with what they would have gotten at home, and I see no reason not to believe them. At the same time…well, there’s a reason a lot of us Westerners who can afford to pay for GP’s who don’t take National Health do so for routine visits. After you’ve been “prescribed” what turns out to be little packets of powdered Tylenol a few times, it’s hard to justify bothering with some of the neighborhood clinics.

    3. John says:

      All the doc specialties do this in Japan. Ever notice the political posters in the local clinics? The JMA is one of the most potent grassroots political organizers in Japan, which explains why many doctors still dispense medicine from their offices, decades after the decision to end the kick-back system was made.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me. I was going to add more to this about how the half-socialized nature of medical care gives everyone an incentive to bribe everyone else with various treats. Then there’s the sordid world of pharmaceutical testing and development. So much to say, so little time.
      But you’re right. The remarkable part here isn’t that the dentists dropped a lot of money. It’s that Hashimoto, uh, doesn’t remember getting a single check for nearly US $1 million.