About a year ago, I reported last on the situation of homeopathy in France. Now it might be time for another update. The end of the reimbursement of homeopathy was, of course, a heavy blow for the laboratories concerned, especially Boiron and Weleda.
Are these firms now going bust?
Is the French public missing homeopathy?
The cessation of reimbursement took place in two steps: in 2020, the reimbursement rate was reduced to 15 % and expired completely in 2021. The new director of Weleda France, Ludovic Rassat, explains that, in 2020, when the reimbursement was reduced to 15 %, the impact on sales was just 20 %. The decrease was limited because of the supplementary health insurance which 80 % of French people have still supplemented the reimbursement up to 100 %. In 2021, this generosity stopped and the reimbursement fell from 100 to 0 %. This led to a 60 % drop in sales and to losses of 13 million Euros for Weleda France.
According to an Ipsos survey commissioned by Boiron Laboratories in October 2018, 70 % of all French used homeopathy to relieve their first symptoms, 74 % thought homeopathic remedies were effective and 71 % thought homeopathy was a good complement to conventional treatments. One might, therefore, have assumed that French consumers would continue using their beloved remedies despite the cessation of reimbursement. However, this was not the case. The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon, I think, is that the above-mentioned survey had generated false-positive results and that people correctly judged homeopathic remedies to be superfluous.
Faced with unsustainable losses, the French manufacturers of homeopathic products are now forced to react. A press release by Weleda France from 4 July 2022 stated that “This project would result in the discontinuation of pharmaceutical production and medical information in France and the closure of the Weleda division. This would result in the cessation of production activities at the Huningue site and an adjustment of the organisation of activities at headquarters. In total, 127 jobs could be cut at Weleda France.” If this step is taken as planned, Weleda France will have to earn its money purely on its cosmetic and anthroposophical products, according to the director.
In 2019, Laboratoires Boiron owned 4 production laboratories and 28 distribution facilities in France. In March 2020, the company announced that it had decided to cut 646 jobs in France and close 13 of its 31 sites, due to the poor economic results that followed the cessation of reimbursement of its products by the social security system. Following the decision by the Minister of Health, Agnès Buzyn, to stop the reimbursement of homeopathic preparations by the social security system, Boiron announced that the Montrichard site in the Loir-et-Cher region had not managed to find a buyer. As a result, the site, which employed around 80 people, closed on 31 December 2021.
And the French consumers?
Are they missing homeopathy?
Are they suffering from homeopathy withdrawal?
Are they more frequently ill without homeopathy?
Are they switching to more expensive conventional drugs?
I currently spend much of my time in France and cannot say that I have noticed any of this. On the contrary, most people I talk to are delighted that homeopathy is no longer reimbursed. But this is no evidence, of course. I am unable to find any reliable data to answer the above questions.
When the French health minister decided against homeopathy two years ago, she said: “It’s possible to leave the doctor’s office without a prescription! Let’s take advantage of this debate on homeopathy to reflect more broadly on our use of medicine. The ultimate goal is to consume less.” She was correct, it seems.