Natural therapies to come under new review this year
In the week following new private health insurance amendments that ban benefits for some natural therapies, the Government has announced an updated review of certain natural therapies to commence this year.
The review commissioned by the Commonwealth government will include a five-year update to its review of natural therapies released in 2015. The review will draw on the expertise of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and an advisory panel or experts including Associate Professor Jon Wardle from the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM) at UTS.
The review will assess additional available evidence for natural therapies, undertake public consultation and provide advice to Government on whether certain natural therapies should be eligible for subsidy through the private health insurance rebate.
The new private health insurance amendments which came into effect on 1 April 2019 received criticism for its neglect to acknowledge additional evidence for certain natural therapies since the previous review.
The therapies were removed after the Private Health Ministerial Advisory Committee interpreted the review and stated that there was a lack of significant evidence for the clinical effectiveness for these therapies. The Committee concluded that these therapies should no longer attract taxpayer subsidies as part of private health insurance.
Three rules were amended:
- Rule 3: The 16 natural therapies are defined in a list as “excluded natural therapy treatment”
- Rule 8: “Excluded natural therapy treatment” is prohibited from coverage as hospital treatment
- Rule 11: “Excluded natural therapy treatment” is prohibited from coverage as “general treatment” for a specific health condition, as well as exempted from health management programs.
Associate Professor Jon Wardle says that new evidence for natural therapies now exists that had not been considered at the time of the decision to introduce this new legalisation.
“There were some big gaps in the initial review – it didn’t look at original research studies, it didn’t use research databases specific to natural therapies and it didn’t look at what practitioners were actually doing in practice.
“Even beyond these issues, the fact is the evidence base has grown considerably since the time of the review. For naturopathy, there are now seven times as many studies than there were in 2015. In some therapies like tai chi and yoga, the evidence is now compelling enough to warrant their inclusion in international clinical guidelines”
While there is no formal process for updating the list as evidence evolves, Health Minister Greg Hunt has conceded that the government should consider new evidence in support of certain natural therapies that have emerged in the five years since the last review.
The Government will invest up to $2 million to support this review. This updated review will commence in mid-2019 with the final review report to be provided to Government in 2020.