Older Australians hit by insurers dropping cover for therapies

Older Australians’ health is being compromised.

Health fund revamp to keep you ill

The Federal Government’s decision to allow health fund insurers to drop cover for alternative therapies to treat chronic conditions will put the health of older Australians at risk.

The decision and resulting changes, which will come into effect from April 2019, have been scrutinised.

In response to the fallout, the Government is being urged by a peak body to formulate a health policy that acknowledges the preventive benefits of natural therapies.

“(We propose) the convening of an Industry and Department of Health taskforce to develop an integrated health policy that includes the contribution of complementary medicines in preventive health,” Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) said in a pre-Budget submission.

The CMA said it would contribute to the cost of setting up a secretariat to help develop such a policy.

With almost three-quarters of Australian seniors privately insured by a health fund, retirees have the most to lose from the Government reforms.

Fewer than half of all Australians have private health insurance, so as a proportion, older people are the ones propping up the sector.

While there is a little good news emerging from the reforms – supposedly cheaper implants for pacemakers, defibrillators, and hip and knee replacements – there are several treatments that will no longer be covered. These complementary and alternative therapies mostly benefit older people who, as a group, have higher levels of chronic conditions compared to the rest of the population.

If health funds drop cover for certain therapies, as proposed, many older Australians may not otherwise be able to afford them. Meanwhile, their chronic conditions will not be alleviated unless their doctors treat them with medications.

Increasingly, seniors are seeking ways to gain relief from medical conditions without having to resort to pharmaceuticals. This reform means that those people will remain sick and in pain if they cannot afford alternative therapies.

So far, more than 74,000 signatures have been collected by YourHealthYourChoice to fight the changes. The petitioners are calling for a Senate inquiry into bias against natural therapies and why government-funded reports have ignored positive evidence.

“The growing consumer demand for products and services that fall outside of orthodox prescription medicines should not be ignored; rather consumer empowerment and integrated healthcare should be vital elements of health in Australia,” according to CMA.

“Clinical indications and claims made by complementary medicines are not always trivial.”

The organisation said there were verified benefits of using these therapies to avoid the onset of dementia, osteoporosis and secondary prevention of cardiovascular

“A 2014 Frost and Sullivan report Targeted Use of Complementary Medicines: Potential Health Outcomes and Cost Savings in Australia shows robust links between several of the more well-known complementary medicines with reduced risk of a secondary disease event among high-risk groups, and with major potential healthcare cost savings.

“The report examined the use of six complementary medicines across four chronic disease conditions – cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, age-related macular degeneration and depression – all of which contribute heavily to the national burden of illness in Australia.”

The Government claims that the therapies can be dropped by insurers because there is no evidence of their clinical benefits. That claim is wrong. There have been hundreds of scientific studies (see links below) showing that the therapies improve the overall health of older people. These are some of the proposed therapies – and how they help keep older people healthy – that are on the hitlist:

These movement classes are helpful to older adults for promoting balance, mobility and confidence.

Weight-bearing poses have been proven to increase bone density, alleviating osteoporosis.

Tai chi
The practice of tai chi has been shown to reduce the incidence of falls among practitioners. Tai chi students have also shown improved quality of sleep.

Several studies (not to mention several million people in Asia) have found that Pilates exercises improve physical, social, spiritual and emotional wellness.

Alexander technique
This program dates back to the 1890s and can be used to retrain people’s gaits so they are less likely to fall and fracture bones. It is also useful for alleviating long-term back and neck pain.

A study of Chinese dementia patients showed that exposure to lavender aromatherapy reduced the incidence of agitated behaviour.

Despite current cynicism, homeopathy was mainstream medicine a century ago before the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. Its remedies can be used to alleviate dozens of conditions.

Do you use complementary medicines and if so, which ones? Have you found the alternative therapies have helped with a chronic medical condition? Will the reforms prevent you from using complementary therapies from next year?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    29th Jan 2018
    I agree with government on this one. Aromatherapy smells like BS to me.
    29th Jan 2018
    Maybe; maybe not. The trouble is, there hasn't been the research done to know either way.
    31st Jan 2018
    Not necessarily. It's the relaxation effect and the placebo and the reduced need for really damaging medicines that works. Pharmaceuticals all have side effects but pure relaxation works a treat.
    29th Jan 2018
    I think that there is some deceptive mathematics in the statement that with three quarters of the elderly insured, proportionately we are propping up the health insurance system. It seems to ignore the unpleasant fact that the elderly use health insurance to a disproportionate degree and that underrepresentation by younger members of society occurs, at least in part, because the added costs of a system weighed down by the claims of the elderly makes it uneconomic for them to participate.

    29th Jan 2018
    This is the sort of rubbish that we have come to expect from the writers on this site. To quote a supportive article from the CMA, the body that represents the products and services at risk from the proposed legislation is farcical. Where is the balance with quotes from the pharmaceutical and mainstream medical representatives?

    The main remedial treatments that are shown are all about ways of exercising. Who doesn't have a nearby park or walking path to go and exercise. Why should there be subsidies for those who need to pay others to show them how to exercise? How many people actually have agitated behaviour? There is a number of medications that will treat that. Yes, homeopathy was great when there was nothing else but back then it was also OK to stuff little children up a chimney to clean it. Surely we have moved forward since those days.
    29th Jan 2018
    Exercise is difficult for the physically disabled.
    29th Jan 2018
    Good point Knows-a-lot, though I have to ask why it would be easier for those who pay into a health fund as opposed to those who don't. Is there a subtle difference in disability that we should be aware of?
    30th Jan 2018
    Good points, Old Man. Why promote CMA's views? These remedies can be pursued by people using their own money if they want.
    However, not sure if savings will be passed on!
    29th Jan 2018
    Well Tib if the smell of bull shit makes us feel bad, why can't the smell of roses make us feel good. Aromatherapy has its place, and it works for me and it looks like it works for you. Try smelling roses though instead of bull shit. This article is all about retirees being targeted once again.
    29th Jan 2018
    It's not targeting me. I think this stuff is nuts, but hey it's your money.
    29th Jan 2018
    Health Insurance, what a joke. Just this, $4316 dollars a year for hospital and extras, health insurance from Medibank. I have been in medibank for decades, lets just take the last ten years then. I pay averaged out or close to it over this time we'll say about $3815 dollars per year.
    I 've had some dental work done , orthodontic work done , I have had a hip operation I have had a blocked intestinal operation , all over the last ten years, so I guess all up if you add it together Medibank may have paid lets average it at about $10,000.00 dollars over the ten years to cover me. I of course have also had to fork out a bit as well from my own pocket after the "conditions" that insurances have that help them pay the least to the premium payers , thats us, all in private health.
    So over ten years the premiums I've paid will have added up to about $38,150.00. That means that me and my wife, have handed over to Medibank about $28,150.00, that is still in their coffers, or invested or spent on who knows what? But I understand that doctors charge very heavy prices for their expertise, most of them too much I would think. But we love them and trust them , and they've studied hard .
    If I added up the 3 decades before this last ten years, and added it on top of this last ten years I would have paid into Medibank maybe , well, at least lets say only $2500 dollars per year (very conservative figure that!) at 30 years becomes somewhere round $75000.00 add that to the last ten years, you get a figure of $113,150.00 over about 40 years and I can tell you I am sure it is more than 40 years perhaps one or two more.
    If I am one family, how many billions are made by these companies and how does the government not open up about this, and stop allowing these profiteers with millions and millions of our money to invest then keep putting up premiums and changing the rules, as in superannuation laws. They call themselves not for profit , some of them???

    I 've just written this and I am absolutely dumbfounded at myself when I know I have worked this out using the least amounts of premium estimates, so the private health funds have made a killing out of my family and now all my adult children are paying between 30 to 80 dollars a fortnight for different types of younger peoples arrangements. How do these private insurers with this racketeering, gaining these monstrous amounts, get away with it.
    I ask everyone who reads this, am I a bloody idiot? Or am I a trapped customer like the rest of you, who has to pay this rip off , because the government won't regulate it, and the fear of being left hanging out to dry if you need hospital and medical attention, keeps you in it.
    Its a form of horrible black mailing of the public.
    I will say one other thing, if Medibank and HBF and any of the big insurers actually covered ALL EXPENSES OVER AND ABOVE MEDICARE COVER, THEN I WOULDN'T MIND PAYING WHAT I DO, EVEN IF ITS A STRUGGLE. I CAN TELL YOU IN THOSE 40 YEARS PERHAPS MY FAMILY AND i HAVE BEEN GIVEN IN INSURANCE HEALTH COVER MAYBE EVEN IF IT WAS $40,000 DOLLARS THAT WOULD LEAVE Medibank still with $73,000.00 dollars made out of just me. How much and how many billions do they rake in , and what about the CEO's on giant pay packets , why , I assume they get paid big to invest our money, then go ahead and make profit and then raise the premiums. Have a think people and politicians before the next elections
    This is a damned racket.
    29th Jan 2018
    Health Insurance is a monster that is self destructing. Logic dictates that when prices rise around double the CPI each year, it is only a matter of time before it becomes unaffordable for all but the super rich.
    30th Jan 2018
    Absolutely correct, John, especially the bit in Capitals "I will say one other thing, if Medibank and HBF and any of the big insurers actually covered ALL EXPENSES OVER AND ABOVE MEDICARE COVER, THEN I WOULDN'T MIND PAYING WHAT I DO, EVEN IF ITS A STRUGGLE.".

    This industry is a complete con on people - unless they pay for all gaps (except 15% of scheduled Medicare rates) for all medically approved treatments over and above Medicare!
    2nd Feb 2018
    I think one hip replacement is a lot. $25,000 for knee replacement so a hip would be maybe $15,000.
    A colonoscopy is $2,500 and I was totally covered.
    Both of us had dental checks and cleans and some fillings and X-rays which would have cost thousands but was mostly covered.
    My husband has new glasses, using across December and January in order to claim separately for frames and lenses.
    Orthodontic work is very expensive. Blocked intestinal op would be dear as well.
    I was just reimbursed for a wrist BP monitor by my health fund.
    We have no excess on day surgery.
    We pay $30 each per week for top hospital and extras.
    We do not eat out not even for a coffee or snack but we buy good food for home. We do not drink or smoke.
    We consider $30 per week for peace of mind cheap!
    29th Jan 2018
    Health officials are clamping down on the use of strong pain relief for chronic pain . Natural therapies should be an alternative if people want to try natural therapies instead of medications that can cause harm Keep natural therapies such as massage please,
    29th Jan 2018
    Perhaps if health insurers didn't have to cover this voodoo the price of insurance would come down? But I wouldn't bet on it.
    29th Jan 2018
    Most people take out insurance on their house and contents, although they know that the likelihood of their property being totally destroyed in a house fire is unlikely. With health insurance we expect to make a few claims but hope that we will not become the chronic invalids who continually claim back more than they pay in premia. The challenge, as we age, is: are we bold enough to challenge the future by self-insuring?

    29th Jan 2018
    Insurance companies in general are as big a bunch of bastards as the banks. as I've said before, bring on a Royal Commission with teeth into this sector of greedy mongrels.
    30th Jan 2018
    I am bemused by all of this. With all of the choices with private health insurance, why should we be forced to pay to insure for anything we don't want. Whilst I am not a fan of pharmaceutical companies ( who indeed have a large influence on the education of our health professionals - but someone has to pay the bills ) , I tend to agree that some of these other therapies have very little in the way to recommend them. If you believe they help by all means be prepared to pay extra for your insurance but do not force others to do so. More choice is required with private health insurance if we are not all going to consider it an optional luxury. I agree with Old Man - get up and go for a walk and if you are disabled and unable to do this ( and have the luxury of private health insurance ) - see a physiotherapist.
    30th Jan 2018
    Private health should NOT cover alternative therapies or things that most people do simply for pleasure such as Tai Chi ( and yes I do it and have private health and do not claim for it)
    However Private health should cover specialist fees and all non cosmetic hosital fees and services

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