Residents of Switzerland will soon cast their votes in a national election to decide whether five forms of complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese medicine, will be reinstated into the country's basic health insurance program. With almost six months remaining before a government-imposed deadline, supporters of complementary medicine have managed to collect more than 140,000 signatures on a petition that calls for alternative therapies to be reinstated into the country's basic health insurance program.The total is 20,000 more than the number required to bring the matter to a national vote.
The upcoming election, the date of which has yet to be scheduled, is the result of a grassroots effort to overturn a decision by the Interior Ministry to no longer have some types of complementary covered by insurance.
In 1999, as part of a five-year pilot program, five alternative therapies - traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, herbal medicine, neural therapy, and anthroposophic medicine. The program was aimed at assessing the potential of these therapies, along with factors such as use and cost, and was considered by many to be a success.
On May 27, 2005, however, Swiss Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin announced that the therapies would no longer be covered by the country's basic health insurance program. In a statement, he said that they had failed to meet the standards on efficacy, suitability and cost-effectiveness laid down in Switzerland's health insurance law.
The decision ran counter to the feelings to the vast majority of the Swiss population. Opinion polls taken in the weeks leading up to the announcement showed that up to 80 percent of Switzerland's citizens believed complementary medicines should be paid for under compulsory health insurance, and a survey conducted in 1998 found that at least one-third of the Swiss population had consulted a doctor who specialized in complementary medicine.
The decision was also met with widespread criticism from a number of professions - except from the health insurance industry, which welcomed it, even though a study showed that complementary medicine accounted for less than one-quarter of one percent of all health insurers' costs in 2003. The Union of Associations of Swiss Physicians for Complementary Medicine released a statement saying that the decision was "a mistake" and that it "ignores what people really want." Even the Swiss Medical Association, which represents approximately 38,000 physicians and students, characterized the decision as "counterproductive."
The purpose of the petition is to ensure that practitioners of alternative medicine are recognized, and to guarantee that all costs associated with alternative therapies are reimbursed under the country's health insurance plan. Titled "Yes to Complementary Medicine," the petition has generated tremendous support nationwide; by April 2005, a month before Couchepin's announcement, the petition had garnered close to the 120,000 signatures required for a national election.
While a date for the election has not been scheduled, the movement to make these therapies part of the national insurance plan has gained support from legislators, health care officials and other advocates of complementary medicine.
Bruno Ferroni, vice president of the Union of Associations of Swiss Physicians for Complementary Medicine, said that "all five disciplines meet the legally defined criteria" to be considered "scientific" forms of medicine, and should therefore be covered by health insurance.
"It's up to voters to decide what should be covered by compulsory health insurance," added Rosemarie Zapfl, a member of the Swiss Parliament. "There is a demand for this type of treatment because it works."
- Alternative medicine catches a cold. SwissInfo/Swiss Radio International, May 26, 2005.
- Voters to decide on alternative medicine. SwissInfo/Swiss Radio International, September 15, 2005.
- Kristof O, et al. Patterns of use and attitudes of complementary medicine consumers in Switzerland. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 1998;6:25-9.