THE private health insurance system in Australia came a bit closer to being evidence-based last week when a host of unproven “natural” treatments were removed from the list of services for which consumers could claim a taxpayer-subsidised rebate.
The 16 removed services include naturopathy, homeopathy, reflexology, aromatherapy, iridology and reflexology.
A review by the National Health and Medical Research Council had earlier found there was no clear evidence of efficacy for any of the excluded therapies.
The alternative health industry has been campaigning hard against the insurance changes ever since they were announced back in 2017.
There were online petitions, emotive claims about therapies being “banned”, and an industry-wide “I Support Natural Therapies and I Vote” campaign urging consumers of the various therapies to lobby politicians against the changes.
“I strongly believe that natural therapies, in particular [insert preferred therapy], is crucial to the preventative health strategy of Australia and will significantly reduce the burden on the public health system, especially as our population gets older and larger,” said a template letter for consumers to download and send to their local member.
I’m not sure whether the reference to a larger population means more people or more overweight people, but it doesn’t really matter.
Despite claims from the alternative therapies lobbyists that 25 000 small businesses were under threat, along with a $4.2 billion contribution to the economy, the changes went ahead.
Alternative and complementary therapies are big business. In fact, that might be the one claim made by the industry that is evidence-based.
Personally, I think there would be better ways to spend that $4.2 billion than on a practice such as iridology, which has about as much scientific basis as reading your tea leaves.
Fresh fruit and vegetables come to mind, or a good pair of walking shoes.
But the industry isn’t ready to lie down on the reflexologist’s couch just yet.
The Australian Homoeopathic Association (AHA) is urging devotees to email the Minister for Health asking him to overturn the decision.
The organisation’s “Your Health, Your Choice” campaign aims “to allow democracy to change this ill-conceived policy”, which is a little confusing given it was our democratic system that made the changes in the first place.
A petition on the AHA website calling for a Senate inquiry into “bias against natural therapies and why government-funded reports have ignored positive evidence” has garnered just over 100 000 signatures.
I guess, if you consider “My second cousin took this potion and his [insert condition of your choice] got better” to be high quality evidence, you might well value online petitions above, well, actual evidence.
Let’s be clear, the changes do not “ban” any of these therapies, despite the frequent use of that word by those with vested interests. People have the same right they have always had to spend, or waste, their money in any way they like.
I myself use two of the now-excluded therapies on a regular basis — pilates and yoga. I firmly believe they contribute to my musculoskeletal health, but do I think my personal belief is enough to justify a taxpayer-funded subsidy?
In the absence of evidence, no, I don’t.
In my last column, I wrote about the appalling situation in this country where 2 million people a year are unable to access essential dental treatment because of cost barriers.
If we can’t find public money to address that, we certainly shouldn’t be directing it to homeopathy.
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based health and science writer.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.