Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Friday, June 03, 2005

Alternative medicine catches a cold

3. June 2005, Swissinfo

Alternative medicine catches a cold

Patients who prefer homeopathy and other alternative therapies to traditional forms of medicine will now have to foot the bill for these treatments.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, who has the health portfolio, announced on Friday that five types of complementary medicine would no longer be covered by basic health insurance.

The interior ministry said the five therapies failed to meet the criteria on efficacy, suitability and cost-effectiveness laid down in Switzerland's health-insurance law.

The ministry stressed, however, that the decision should not be seen as a ruling on the merits of complementary medicine.

Health insurers can stop paying for the treatments from the end of the month.

The Union of Associations of Swiss Physicians for Complementary Medicine said the decision by the interior ministry was a mistake.

"It ignores what people really want and will lead to a health system only rich patients can afford," it said in a statement.

The Swiss Patients' Organisation said it was disappointed with the interior ministry because its decision did not correspond with the findings of a report into complementary medicine.

Alternative therapies are very popular in Switzerland. According to a recent survey, one-third of the population has consulted a doctor specialising in complementary medicine at least once.

In 1999 the interior ministry ruled that five therapies - homeopathy, herbal medicine, neural therapy, traditional Chinese medicine and anthroposophic medicine ? should be covered provisionally by basic health insurance.

The scheme, which ran for a trial period of five years, was aimed at assessing the potential of these therapies.

SFr7-million study
Friday's decision pre-empts a SFr7 million ($5.6 million) study on complementary medicine which is due to be published this year.

This was commissioned to assess whether the five therapies met the criteria on efficacy, suitability and cost-effectiveness.

The study, which has been described by experts as a world first, was also intended to build bridges between "scientific" and alternative forms of medicine.

But it has been beset by controversy. There have been problems over the methodology, communication and interpretation of the data, and parts of the analysis have yet to be completed.

Furthermore, the Federal Health Office said it would only publish the findings once Couchepin had announced his decision.

Bruno Ferroni, vice-president of the Union of Associations of Swiss Physicians for Complementary Medicine, says the results of the study confirm that "all five disciplines meet the legally defined criteria".

But critics argue that only scientifically proven aspects of these treatments should be covered by insurers.

In 2003 complementary medicine accounted for 0.2 per cent of health insurers' costs.

One alternative would have been to make these therapies subject to supplementary insurance policies.

Jacques de Haller, the president of the Swiss Medical Association, suggested that complementary medicine could remain part of basic insurance, but that it should form part of an optional extra premium costing less than SFr10 a month.

But opponents doubt whether such a move would help to restrict costs.

Friday's announcement is unlikely to mark the end of the matter. In the space of seven months, more than 120,000 people have signed a people's initiative calling for a nationwide vote to enshrine the right to alternative therapies in the constitution.

According to opinion polls, four out of five Swiss think that complementary medicine should continue to be paid for under the basic health-insurance scheme.

This means that Couchepin's decision could be overturned at the ballot box.


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