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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Government restricting health choices

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From April 1, federal legislation will prevent private health insurers from offering rebates for a number of natural therapies, including naturopathy.

The 2.5 million Australians who see a naturopath as part of their healthcare program should be deeply concerned as natural therapies will be out of the reach of many without the rebate.

The value of naturopaths in promoting and supporting preventive illnesses has been proven repeatedly. A burgeoning public health budget (state and federal) is based largely on meeting the cost of the traditional medical model. The role natural therapies play in preventing ill health should be recognised and supported.

A number of attempts to represent the interests of naturopaths and their patients during this process have been made. To date letters to the federal minister for Health (Hunt) and the local federal member for Richmond, Justine Elliot, have gone unanswered.

If you support your local naturopaths/herbalists take the time to contact the Hon Greg Hunt and Ms Justine Elliot and urge them to review the new legislation and remove naturopathy from the prohibited list.

Your freedom to choose a healthcare model based upon a preventive focus is at stake.

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  1. The governemnt is not restricting anyone’s right ot use so called natural therapies but on behalf all citizens it applies our public monies to those therapies which it is advised are beneficial to health. That advice comes from professionals in the Department of Health and related agencies who are both qualified and have the time, structural independence and resources to provide the best advice ot government. If you want to waste money on alternative therapies that they have not found worth funding that is you business, but don’t expect other people to subsidise your choices, and please do not apply political pressure on government to go against its own professional advice. .

  2. Few people probably understand what this legislation is done. The goal of the legislation was to remove the public subsidies from these practices, but they way they’ve implemented it (via a prohibitive list excluding these therapies from the Insurance Business Rules, in particular the rebate, hospital treatment and health management plan sections) has a ton of unintended flow-on effects.

    One of them is that those organisations accepting private health insurance cannot offer these services with rebatable services, even if the insurer is not paying for them. Our research centre at the University of Technology Sydney has already lost 3 existing projects as a direct result of these changes and we’ve had to stop discussions on any more, as organisations are no longer able to have any involvement with these therapies even for research purposes.

    This is in addition to the regulatory vacuum it creates (dodgy online providers are already advertising their courses with statements like “from April 1 you will no longer need a degree to practise” as insurers were the only regulators in this sector – it was why people were told to see if their practitioner was eligible for insurance, even if the patient didn’t have as it was the only standardised accreditation).

    All these stem not from the removal of subsidies (which would have had little impact – in fact our research shows people are far more likely to use these therapies *without* PHI than with it), but the implementation. These are now the only actively prohibited legal practices specifically prohibited by any Australian health law. We have long advocated that the policy could have been enacted very easily with a permissive list (i.e. a list of therapies that *could* be covered, as is the case for other areas such as allied health), or the Labor proposal of insurers reporting payments to the Department of Health and having the government payment to insurers manually adjusted.

    The way it is done, however, *does* restrict choice. It also makes it harder for patients to access these therapies where they are safe and effective, and it encourages them to access it in ways that are potentially harmful and ineffective. Whatever you think of the policy goal, the way they’ve implemented it is just a terrible, terrible misguided piece of legislation.

    Jo Wardle, Associate Professor of Public Health, University of Technology Sydney


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