MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

I was alerted to an interesting article about homeopathy in Switzerland. Its author points out that homeopathy is paid for by health insurance in Switzerland because of anything remotely related to evidence but because of a referendum in 2009. At the time, one of the arguments of the proponents was that health care costs would tend to decrease if more so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) would be paid for by the public purse. This is what Jacques de Haller, the president of the medical association, claimed: because SCAM is comparatively cheap and helps to prevent more expensive consultations, the total cost of health care would decrease.

This rather naive assumption was also one made in 2005 by the ‘Smallwood-Report’, commissioned by Charles and paid for by Dame Shirley Porter, specifically to inform health ministers. It stated that up to 480 million pounds could be saved if one in 10 family doctors offered homeopathy as an alternative to standard drugs. Savings of up to 3.5 billion pounds could be achieved by offering spinal manipulation rather than drugs to people with back pain. (Because I had commented on this report, Prince Charles’ first private secretary asked the vice-chancellor of Exeter University, Steve Smith, to investigate. Even though I was found to be not guilty of any wrongdoing, specifically of violating confidentiality, all local support stopped which led to my decision to retire early.)

In Switzerland, the assumption that SCAM saves money was refuted in 2019 by the Swiss health insurance association Santésuisse in a proper cost analysis. According to this analysis, doctors who also prescribed homeopathy caused 22% more costs per patient than those practicing conventional medicine. As it turned out, SCAM would be charged in addition to existing conventional medical services. Consequently, from a point of view of health economics, SCAM should not be called “alternative”, but rather “additive”, Santésuisse wrote at the time.

More evidence comes from a German study (authored by proponents of homeopathy!) that confirms these findings. Integrated care contracts for homeopathy by German health insurers were shown to result in higher costs across all diagnoses.

The recognition that homeopathy lacks sound evidence has already led to an end of reimbursement in the UK and France. Both in Germany and Switzerland, strong pro-homeopathy lobbies have so far succeeded in preventing similar actions. Yet, there is no doubt that, in these and other countries, the writing is on the wall.

5 Responses to The notion that homeopathy and other so-called alternative medicines save money is naive and wrong

  • In England GPs can still prescribe homeopathic remedies. The remedies have not been blacklisted.

    Homeopathic remedies are more expensive than many medicines.

  • In India they have three co-equal medical systems: conventional, ayurvedic and homeopathic all with hospital privileges. Medical care is cheaper because the CONmed doctors have some competition and they dont have a lock on controlling how many doctors are trained. Both more doctors and having more competition from other systems of medicine keeps costs down. A comparison of the costs of patients seeking care in the three different systems for the same complaints would show which system is more cost effective in a proper manner.

    Saying that homeopathy is causing increased medical costs because it is prescribed IN ADDITION to conventional medicine is like saying that movies cost more because the patrons are buying candy IN ADDITION to paying for the movie ticket; an irrational argument laying the blame incorrectly.

    • it’s not about ‘saying’ it; it’s about proving it with proper evidence.

    • A comparison of the costs of patients seeking care in the three different systems for the same complaints would show which system is more cost effective in a proper manner.

      What a smashing idea! Call us when the results are in. 😀

    • @roger

      Medical care is cheaper because the real doctors have some competition and they dont have a lock on controlling how many doctors are trained.

      And as a result, India still ranks as one of the worst countries with regard to healthcare, a relatively low life expectancy (and especially a low healthy life expectancy, and a high infant mortality.

      All of which of course is not surprising, given that homeopathy is 100% fake medicine, and Ayurveda is even worse, as it deliberately poisons people with heavy metals. Accepting these types of rank quackery as official healthcare is not motivated by their merits, but by political propaganda – among which, as you faithfully parrot, the claim that it is cost-effective. And of course its proponents also claim that it makes India less dependent on western knowledge and technology. Both claims are true, but ignores the fact that it doesn’t help people (which, I think, should be the purpose of healthcare in the first place).

      Anyway, thank you for showing that India is a glaring example of how NOT to do it with regard to healthcare.

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