The largest health insurer in Flanders, the Christian Mutuality (CM), has decided to stop reimbursing expenses for homeopathic remedies in January, after 15 years of doing so. “This is not a value judgement,” a spokesperson said. CM repays up to €50 on expenses for homeopathic remedies per year to subscribers to its additional insurance package, over and above the legal minimum insurance.
The insurer may not intend a value judgement, but it is common knowledge that federal health minister Maggie De Block, who is a qualified general practitioner, is no supporter of alternative medicine, and believes only in evidence-based science.
Homeopathy, meanwhile, holds to the principle that “like cures like,” and that any condition can be cured by minuscule doses of the agent causing the condition. In practice, that means diluting a solution of the agent so many times that the resulting liquid is statistically unlikely to contain even one molecule of the original agent. Proponents of the method argue that water has a memory of the curative agent, which it retains even when the agent is no longer present.
Opponents – those like De Block who support evidence-based medicine – argue that there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies have – or are even theoretically able to have – any effect on a disease process. If any improvement is seen, they argue, it must be attributed to the placebo effect.
The news of CM’s decision was welcomed by SKEPP, a group which scrutinises, on the basis of scientific evidence, claims of pseudo-scientific and paranormal phenomena. “We’re happy that CM has finally seen the light,” commented Dr. Dirk Devroey, a SKEPP council member. “As far as I’m concerned, they ought to have seen it 15 years ago.”
Other insurers, meanwhile, including Partena and the Liberal Mutuality, will continue with their present policy toward homeopathy. “We know that homeopathy is controversial, but we are not doctors, and have no desire to get involved in arguments pro and contra,” said Sarah Masschelein, spokesperson for Partena. “We have chosen for a partial reimbursement because there is a demand for it from our clients.”
In French-speaking Belgium, nothing will change for the time being, with the counterpart of CM, the French-speaking MC, continuing to repay 25% of homeopathic remedies prescribed by a doctor, to a maximum of €175 a year.
But the association of doctors’ representatives, a nationwide organisation, welcomed the decision by CM: “We are happy that reason has finally won the day,” a spokesperson said. “Let’s hope the other mutualities are quick to follow their example.”