Review on health fund rebate for alt med – too hard basket

Piggy bank medicine

The report of a government review to assess a range of ‘natural therapies’ covered by the private health insurance rebate has finally been released.

And the view is that “clear evidence [that they are clinically effective] has not been found”.

“There was not reliable, high quality evidence available to allow assessment of the clinical effectiveness of any of the natural therapies for any health conditions,” the report says.

So will the rebate be dropped on those useless therapies? No, it’s too hard.

The Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for natural therapies was announced in the 2012-13 Budget by the former Labor government. It was designed to “ensure private health insurance covers clinically proven treatments”.

“The department would review ‘natural therapies’ to identify services that are not underpinned by a robust evidence base and for which the private health insurance rebate should be withdrawn.”

The review’s report was finalised in March of this year, but only now released by the Minster for Health, Sussan Ley.

But despite the lack of supporting evidence, Ms Ley told The Australian newspaper that “Removing unproven natural therapies from the scope of the health insurance rebate is unlikely to deliver sufficient savings to warrant the cost of doing so.”

She did add that the issue would be considered as part of a broader review of value for money in insurance.

“I certainly support the theory of government rebates being paid only for health treatments that are evidence-based,” she told The Australian.

“This is certainly the approach we are taking to our review of all 5700 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule and people would expect the same of taxpayer funds invested in private health insurance.

“The problem here is this was purely about desperate budget cuts for Labor, not evidence, and it shows in their dodgy accounting on this measure.”

Labor had estimated the measure would save $32 million a year, but that was before changes reducing the scope of the rebate.

The review looked at a range of therapies: Alexander technique; aromatherapy; ayurveda; Bowen therapy; buteyko; Feldenkrais; herbalism/western herbalism; homeopathy; iridology; kinesiology; massage therapy; naturopathy; pilates; reflexology; rolfing; shiatsu; tai chi; and yoga.

The report did say that “The absence of evidence does not in itself mean that the therapies evaluated do or do not work. Natural therapies emerged in an environment where there was not a premium on rigorous evidence base. Where there is limited evidence in some modalities, there is value in conducting more research. It is also possible that there is a lack of evidence because the therapies are not effective, but it is also possible that further research may identify clinical conditions for which particular therapies are effective. This would appear more likely for those therapies that have some supporting evidence and scientific plausibility (for example, massage therapy) than for those that do not (for example, homeopathy).”

One thought on “Review on health fund rebate for alt med – too hard basket”

  1. So do we get to see the numbers the Minister used to conclude that “removing [them] is unlikely to deliver sufficient savings to warrant the cost of doing so”?

    What are these enormous removal costs? Apparently they are so high that we can pour money down the drain for the indefinite future and the saving will never overtake the costs. Really?

    This smells bad.

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