Friends of Science in Medicine has lauded the upcoming changes to private health insurance which will exclude some natural therapies
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced changes to private health insurance in October, which are aimed at helping Australians understand their policies and facilitate better choice of cover that suits them and their families.
The changes are to take place from 1 April 2019.
Also taking place on the same date are changes to the therapies which can be covered by private health insurance; earlier in the year the Government decided to withdraw coverage for a range of “natural” therapies.
Therapies to be removed from the definition of private health insurance general treatment, which will no longer receive the private health insurance rebate as part of a general treatment policy, include: Alexander technique, aromatherapy, Bowen therapy, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, Pilates, reflexology, Rolfing, shiatsu, tai chi, and yoga.
This decision followed a review, chaired by the former Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, which found no clear evidence to support the efficacy of the listed natural therapies. The review was undertaken by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
According to the Department of Health, removal of these therapies from general treatment (extras) insurance – held by about 55% of the Australian population – will remove significant costs from the health system.
Now, Friends of Science in Medicine says it has campaigned for seven years for the government to stop subsidising these “supposed health treatments that its own principal advisory body, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), has declared ineffective”.
“This move is important in our efforts to use precious health dollars wisely,” said Professor John Dwyer, President of FSM, “but even more important is the clear message to Australians that these modalities will not benefit their health.”
Ian Carr, pharmacist member of FSM, said that the move was a “step in the right direction”.
“This is despite the fact that there’s constant publicity talking about how complementary medicines and therapies are being used by many people,” he told the AJP.
“It’s also the case that in many places like the UK and Australia, they’re getting less official support.”
In the UK, the British Homeopathic Association mounted a legal challenge to an NHS decision which saw NHS provide guidance to GPs and clinical commissioning groups that 18 treatments should not be “routinely” prescribed.
These included homeopathy, herbal medicines and some dietary supplements.
The England and Wales High Court upheld the NHS’ position.
Mr Carr said that while he felt withdrawal of the Australian Government’s support via private health insurance for certain complementary treatments helped reduce perceptions of their legitimacy amongst consumers, the fact that pharmacies still sold them still lent them some credence.
“I had the opportunity a little while ago to have a look at some American pharmacies, and obviously they’re nowhere near as regulated as we are.
“But what worried me more than anything for the professionalization of medicine was that I found places where legitimate medication made by a company were positioned directly next to homeopathic medicine marketed by the same company!
“I don’t want that repeated in Australia. I’m a strong believer that we shouldn’t be supporting the concept of homeopathy in Australian pharmacies.”
According to FSM, health literacy in Australia hovers around 40% of the population, making it easy for “pseudoscientific practitioners” to make misleading claims about “worthless or even harmful treatments”.
“It is concerning that, in this most scientific of ages, consumers are poorly protected from so many ineffective, pseudoscientific and even anti-scientific ‘alternative’ modalities and such misleading information,” said Adelaide’s science communicator, Professor Rob Morrison, Vice-President of FSM.
“Government should build on this positive step by asking more from the regulators that they themselves have established to protect consumers from health care fraud.”
Meanwhile Complementary Medicines Australia is looking to China, with its chief executive, Carl Gibson, welcoming an announcement that China will continue to expand the opening up of the market.
“China will expand its free trade zones, and provide more certainty and confidence for e-commerce rules for imported products; this is very welcome news for the Australian complementary medicines industry,” he said.
“Australia is on the verge to overtake the USA as the number one importer of complementary medicines into China.
“Our products are well recognised as a premium brand in the complementary medicines sector, thanks to our strict quality and safety manufacturing standards and Australia’s clean and green reputation.”