Labor CM rebate cut plan ‘a false economy’

spoonful of vitamins

Complementary Medicines Australia has slammed the Labor Party over its plans to cut the rebate to natural therapies if elected to Government next month.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen announced a raft of cuts last Friday with Labor Leader Bill Shorten reiterating the cuts to natural therapies on ABC’s Q&A this week.

“Labor’s plans are nothing more than a false economy,” says Carl Gibson, chief executive of CMA.

“It’s an accepted principle that for every $1 invested in preventive health today Australia will save $10 on chronic diseases in the future.

“Preventive health is an essential move towards improving the cost-effectiveness of the Australian healthcare system and crucial in taking pressure off over-stretched hospitals.

“Cutting the preventive healthcare rebate would not save money in the long run but would instead be detrimental to the government’s health budget.”

Gibson cites Australian Bureau of Statistics data that shows people who had visited a natural therapist were more likely to have healthier behaviours, including eating the recommended minimum serves of fruit and vegetables, exercising more and not smoking.

“Natural products and therapies contribute to the maintenance of a healthier lifestyle and better quality of life,” he says.

“The burden of disease in Australia, and the associated economic costs, is a progressively top-of-mind issue, and the relatively small $40 million a year investment to the rebate for natural therapies is a small price to pay for the long term health of Australians, out of a total spend of more than $105 billion.”

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  1. Ken Harvey

    As a public health physician I certainly agree that a greater investment in preventative health is cost-effective.

    But, as a member of the recent government Natural Therapies Review Advisory Committee, I remind Carl Gibson (CMA) that the review was unable to find good evidence supporting the effectiveness of the therapies investigated.

    Does CMA really believe that providing a private health insurance rebate for therapies such as homeopathy, iridology and herbalism produces preventative health benefits? And where is the evidence that the majority of the natural products promoted and consumed contribute to a healthier lifestyle?

    The fact that people who had visited a natural therapist were more likely to have healthier behaviours is probably due the underlying demographic of such people (female, educated and affluent) rather than the specific intervention of a natural therapist.

    I have no problems with people who make an informed choice to see a natural therapist or consume complementary medicines. I just don’t want my taxes to subsidise therapies that lack a good evidence base.

    • Ron Batagol

      I agree with the comments of Ken Harvey, including his comments on the false logic promoted by CMA. Then again, how often do you “drill down” into whatever references you can locate regarding efficacy “evidence” for a specific CM and find that it is based on reports in some obscure journal and/or it uses the product’s own information sheet as a reference source! Interestingly, today there was another news item in AJP -“Should there be MBS funding for professional pharmacist
      services?”, in which it was noted that The Australian Medical Association made a submission for the 2016-2017 Federal budget for a practice incentive for pharmacists in general practice. .Maybe the taxpayers money that now goes into health insurance rebates for CMs would be better spent in supporting incentives such as these, as is occurring in some countries overseas, such as Great Britain, which is moving towards pharmacists are assuming a greater role in helping to manage a wide variety of primary health and chronic health community health issues.

  2. Sue Ieraci

    As there is no good evidence that taking supplements (in the absence of measured deficiency) or using homeopathic ‘remedies’ prevents any disease, there should be no concern about any impact on preventive health.

    Pharmacists who are interested in promoting public health could join the rest of the health care team in discouraging smoking and giving good advice about diet, physical activity and vaccination. Just those few changes make an enormous difference to health and wellbeing.

    The observation that people who spend on expensive placebos also tend to eat well, exercise and avoid smoking only signifies that they have the means to follow good lifestyle behaviours – not that the expensive placebos promote good health.

    If pharmacists truly value their role as trusted health care professionals, they need to separate that role from being purveyors of retail products.

  3. Melissa

    There is good evidence that spending time with a person and assisting them to make healthy diet and lifestyle choices can reduce their likelihood of developing chronic disease and subsequent hospital admissions later in life. Diabetes is the number one cause of avoidable hospital admissions in the inner north west of Melbourne (I’m unsure about Australia as whole).

    The Labour government isn’t really interested in health outcomes – it is interested in saving money and it is easy to start with the low hanging fruit.

    Meanwhile tax payers continue to pay much more for invasive medical procedures such as IVF for women over 40 (for a whopping 2-3% success rate) which costs tax payers 250million in Medicare rebates annually. It’s much harder to clean that up. CM is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ (not my words).

    I’d happily get rid of all the CM ‘products’ out there without evidence but cutting rebates to CM practitioners doesn’t do that. It simply compounds the problem as people help themselves to whatever is on the shelf in pharmacies or health food stores without supervision.

    If we are talking health outcomes rather than ‘saving the budget’ there needs to be smarter solutions.

    • Ken Harvey

      I agree with Melissa that spending time with a person and assisting them to make healthy diet and lifestyle choices can reduce their likelihood of developing chronic disease and subsequent hospital admissions later in life.

      A recent article in Australian Doctor noted the value of team-based care for patients with chronic disease (Medical Home Model). Patients who had not been seen for six months were called in for a holistic review with the practice team, which included GPs, a diabetes educator, exercise physiologist and a non-dispensing clinical pharmacist. From there, interventions such as education on diet and exercise, and medication reviews were put in place. Of the 289 diabetes patients taking part, the percentage with an HbA1c of less than 7% has risen from 40% to 60%. Meanwhile, 75% of those who committed to an exercise and diet education program have lost weight. This medical home model has been endorsed by both the Labor and Liberal Parties.

      I also agree that well-trained CM practitioners, such as some naturopaths, could have a role to play in such collaborative care models. But, given the huge variations in the training and treatment modalities used by CM practitioners, I still argue that providing a PHI for all of them is not good public policy.

      • Melissa

        I agree with Ken about the many and varied modalities that encompass complementary health approaches. To add to this there are issues with the current inadequacies of self-regulation and varied levels of education. In essence, however, we could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater as qualitative evidence suggests there are distinct benefits to the patient/client in the detailed individualised health promotion approach of naturopaths in conditions where diet and lifestyle changes play a pivotal role – – this is a significant gap that needs more than 1 or 2 visits to a diabetes educator & is the true value of the holistic naturopathic approach to primary prevention.

  4. gh

    This will result in more ill health.
    Anyone with illness that has tried numerous natural therapies knows that natural therapies (the right ones for the individual) achieve much better outcomes than most pharmaceutical medicines, which overall do more harm than good.
    Of course pharmacists don’t want to believe that all those drugs they dispense do cause a lot of illness.

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