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Government to Fund Complementary Medicine for Six Years

The Swiss Department of Home Affairs announced in January that complementary medicine will be provisionally included in the basic health insurance package from 2012 through 2017. During this period, scientific evaluations will be conducted to determine whether coverage should be made permanent. The five complementary therapies to be included in the basic plan include anthroposophical medicine (which integrates modern and homeopathic medicines, physical and artistic therapies, and biographical counseling); homeopathy; neural therapy (which involves injection of a local anesthetic into various, highly specific areas); phytotherapy (herbal medicine); and traditional Chinese medicine.

In Switzerland, individuals are required to purchase basic health insurance from one of a number of competing nonprofit insurers. The basic insurance package includes most GP and specialist services, emergency and inpatient hospital care, an extensive list of pharmaceuticals, some mental health care, and selected preventive measures. Under Swiss law, only clinically effective, cost-effective, and appropriate medical services can be added to the benefit basket.

Switzerland first included temporary coverage of the same five complementary medicines in 1999, while it conducted a similar scientific evaluation. However, the evaluation was inconclusive, and coverage of the therapies was stopped in 2005. In 2009, two-thirds of Swiss voters approved a legally binding referendum proposing reimbursement of complementary medicines. In December 2010, however, the federal commission responsible for reviewing the basic benefit basket concluded that complementary medicine had not been scientifically confirmed and recommended that it not be included in the basic insurance package. As a compromise, Home Affairs Minister Didier Burkhalter announced provisional coverage of the five therapies, combined with a scientific evaluation plan.

The temporary scientific evaluation plan requires five medical associations representing the five therapies to submit evaluations detailing how their therapies meet the coverage criteria to the Home Affairs Department by the end of 2015. At the same time, an as yet unnamed “internationally recognized institution” will review effectiveness of the therapies, and will submit health technology assessments to the Home Affairs Department, which will then decide whether to cover the therapies permanently.


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