Cover My (Ineffective) Care: Homeopaths Demand Insurance Coverage of Disproven Methods

In a blog post late last month, the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) detailed their efforts to guarantee insurance companies are required to cover their disproven methods. Along with acupuncturists, chiropractors, assorted naturopaths, and other alternative medicine providers, the NCH is hoping to exploit language that was inserted into the Affordable Care Act by alt-med supporter Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), following the efforts of the American Chiropractic Association and the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), of which NCH is a member. Among others, IHPC partners include the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, the American Massage Therapy Association, International Chiropractic Pediatric Association.

The alt-med coddling language, tracked doggedly by Jan Bellamy at Science Based Medicine (see here, here, here, here, and here), is found in the Affordable Care Act’s Section 2706:

“…a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any healthcare provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable State law.”

Enforcement of Section 2706 is left up to the states, with their somewhat diverse licensing and certification regimes for alt-med practitioners. Given those often lax and frankly unscientific standards, it is in the states where NCH, the IHPC, and other alternative medicine providers hope to make their stand—and spectacular profits.

The amount of money at play is staggering, and is quite certainly why these alternative medicine providers have been so eager for the Affordable Care Act’s protection. Each year, Americans spend $32 billion on alternative medicine. One of the more commonly-covered alternative methods, chiropracticcost Medicare nearly half a billion dollars in 2012 alone. That’s an incredible waste of Americans’ tax dollars—dollars that could have been spent on treatments proven to work, for the patients who desperately need them.

This month, to bolster their efforts the IHPC is launching the “Cover My Care” campaign “designed to educate the public and state officials about non-discrimination in healthcare.” Behind that seemingly noble guise of “non-discrimination,” these groups are working to erode the standard of scientific evidence in medicine itself, a situation that would leave insurance companies unable to refuse coverage for unproven, disproven, patently unscientific, and sometimes dangerous treatments that waste both money and time. In the face of those shoddy state regulations that are themselves the product of lobbying by the alternative medicine industry, insurance companies will be forced to treat homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy, and other alt-med procedures with the same regard they do evidence-based, scientifically proven medicine.

Indeed, insurance companies won’t be able to discriminate—between what works and what doesn’t. Every snake-oil salesman with a slip from their particular state will be the equivalent of a surgeon with an M.D. The madness will know no bounds except for the bank accounts of patients, whose premiums will be driven higher by these wasteful insurance requirements.

By every measure of sound medical science, the methods the NCH and IHPC advocate for are simply not medical care. And if we are to achieve a truly affordable, truly effective, and truly safe health care system—the very goals of the Affordable Care Act—they simply should not be covered.