The Australian government has passed health insurance reform laws that end public and private health cover for a wide range of natural therapies, such as Herbalism, Yoga, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and more.
From April 1st 2019, the government will no longer subsidise for a range of natural treatments, and health insurers will no longer be able to provide cover for “non-permitted therapies”, despite them accounting for less than 1% of all benefits paid.
From April, treatments and therapies such as Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Bowen Therapy, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, Western Herbalism/Herbalism, Homeopathy, Iridology, Kinesiology, Naturopathy, Reflexology, Rolfing and Shiatsu will not be covered under publicly and privately funded health insurance schemes.
Popular fitness and wellbeing practices such as Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi will also be excluded, while traditional Chinese Medicine, Chiropractic and Massage Therapy will stay, it has been announced.
The moves began in 2015 when a government report concluded that 17 natural therapies offered through health insurance “hadn’t been proven to work on patients”.
This policy, based on flawed reviews undertaken by the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC), formally justified rebate cuts for Natural Therapies, which had already been pre-determined before the reviews had commenced.
In 2017, the Health Department released a report on the conducted reviews, examining “the evidence of clinical efficacy, cost effectiveness, safety and quality of natural therapies”, concluding that most treatments “have been found to not be underpinned by an evidence base”.
The Private Health Insurance Amendment, which passed both houses on September 11, 2018, is part of a package of three bills to “increase maximum excess levels for private hospital cover”, among other changes, by removing these treatments from classification:
“Private health insurers will be required to remove cover for natural therapies from all general treatment products that provide cover for these therapies. The Commonwealth, through the Private Health Insurance Rebate, will therefore no longer subsidise these non-permitted therapies.”
A hit list of natural therapies will be excluded from health cover unless they are offered only as incentives under Private Health Insurance Incentives, according to the changes.
Despite petitions from the natural therapy industry, which argues many Australians use the treatments to stay well, the Federal Health Department confirmed that 16 of 17 items would not be funded under health insurance policies that were government-subsidised.
The new law is the latest example in a continued effort by the Australian government to centralise and control health, including ongoing expansions of coercive ‘No Jab’ laws for vaccination, the controversial My Health Record system, and proposed mandatory opt-out systems for procedures such as organ donation.
The new changes have attracted backlash from a number of representatives from the natural health and medicine industries, including the Australian Natural Therapists Association, who met Mr Hunt to argue against the changes.
Despite this, a Health Department spokeswoman confirmed the therapies would be removed from private health insurance packages:
“Commonwealth funding is typically only paid where a therapy has demonstrated clinical efficacy.
Therefore, the Australian Government has decided to remove private health insurance coverage for these services from complying health insurance products that attract the private health insurance rebate.”
Dr. Rachel David, CEO of Private Healthcare Australia, a peak body representing 20 health insurers, says reducing the rebate paid on extras policies would make them more expensive and result in less preventative treatment being undertaken and more strain placed on the hospital system:
“Australia’s health funds paid $4.9 billion in benefits for General Treatment in 2015–16, including $2.5 billion for dental, $800 million for optical and $400 million for physiotherapy. Benefits paid for natural therapies comprise less than one percent of all benefits paid by health funds.”
Proponents are calling for a Senate Inquiry into bias against natural therapies and why government-funded reports have ignored positive evidence.
Petrina Reichman, spokesperson for Your Health Your Choice, recently touched on the changes:
“Despite overwhelming public backlash, the major parties have ignored public opinion and agreed to laws that will hurt Australian small businesses and result in people cancelling and/or reducing their level of Private Health Insurance cover.”
Your Health Your Choice launched a petition that reached over 100,000 signatures in the submission period, however, Greg Hunt MP continued ahead with the proposal despite the backlash. The site is now calling for last minute preventative measures.
The new laws allow health insurers to choose to fund natural therapies as “incentives”, and if some insurers continue to offer access to these therapies, the cost would not be allowed to be more than 12 per cent of the premium.
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