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In the context of the discussion on the reimbursement of homeopathy by statutory health insurance funds, the CEO of SBK drew attention to himself on Twitter with the “argument” that the small amount spent on homeopathy in his company was ultimately irrelevant “from an insurance point of view”. After this position had been contradicted on Twitter, SBK published a “Background Information: Homeopathy at the SBK” on its website and explicitly referred to this as part of the debate.
The Information Network Homeopathy feels compelled to comment on this publication with an open letter to SBK, which is given below:
Siemens Company Health Insurance Fund (SBK)
By e-mail (email@example.com)
Open letter of the information network Homöopathie on the publication of the SBK “Background information: Homeopathy at the Siemens company health insurance fund”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
your institution is one of the many health insurance companies that reimburse the costs of homeopathic treatment, which has been under discussion for some time. On Twitter, your CEO drew additional attention by putting forward the “peanuts” argument, i.e. the opinion that the low expenditure on homeopathy was not a significant part of the total expenditure anyway. This has already been contradicted on Twitter to the extent that this is not the only, not even a priority aspect in the demand that homeopathy no longer be reimbursed by health insurance funds.
Thereafter, you have clarified your point of view on homeopathic reimbursement (https://www.sbk.org/themen-standpunkte/hintergrundinformation-homoeopathie/ ), for which we would like to thank you first of all, because this enables a discourse. In the following we therefore deal with what you state in your clarification and orient ourselves on the headings of the various points as used in your publication:
1. To what extent does the Siemens Company Health Insurance Fund (SBK) cover treatment by homeopaths?
At this point, you inform us that you offer a separate optional tariff for homeopathic services (“pharmaceutical tariff”), which is actuarially self-supporting (i.e. the area of statutory services “for all” is not affected).
However, this information is incomplete.
According to the information on the SBK website, this only applies to the drug part, i.e. the globules; the medical treatment part of homeopathy is covered by a selective contract with the management company of the Central Association of Homeopathic Physicians as part of the statutory benefits, as is the case also with other health insurance funds, and thus also affects all insured persons who have no “interest” in homeopathy.
Even in the case that homeopathy would be a complete part of an optional tariff offer: The health insurance funds, especially the statutory ones, are important players in the health care system. We can certainly see that the legislator – unlike in the vast majority of industrialised countries – has not (yet) consistently implemented the orientation of public health towards evidence-based medicines and methods. Unfortunately, indeed. However, it cannot then be the task of the health insurance funds to undermine the confidence of their policyholders in rational medicine by offering a “vendor’s tray” of unscientific and ineffective methods, not even within the framework of a “voluntary tariff”, and thereby make a not insignificant contribution to the irrationality and hostility towards science that unfortunately prevails anyway. Apart from the fact that such offers, understood correctly, should actually be an ethical problem for health insurance companies.
One should bear in mind that the offer of unscientific methods with the authority of a statutory health insurance directly threatens the necessary further development of the health system in terms of performance, effectiveness and sustainability. Homeopathy is the “entry point” for the acceptance of further pseudomedical methods and often correlates with things like vaccination “skepticism” (perhaps less in the medical profession, but basically very well). Thus homeopathy is the dividing line beyond which there is a danger of further attention by patients to more dangerous pseudomedical methods. The responsibility of the statutory health insurance funds here is considerable. They should send a clear signal against such tendencies.
2. To what extent has the effectiveness of homeopathy been proven and what is SBK’s opinion of studies which consider homeopathic treatment to be free of effects?
“It is true that there are no scientific studies which clearly prove the efficacy of homeopathic medicinal products, but this does not mean that they couldn’t be effective.” This sentence in your publication opens the door to any arbitrariness and has nothing to do with a scientific-rational view on the problem. As the INH has just stated in its article “Scientists claim that homeopathy is impossible“, the “reverse conclusion” quoted by you is an absolute empty statement – simply because the ineffectiveness (impossibility) of something can in principle not be proved. Homoeopathy, however, has the scientifically conceivably highest improbability against itself that it could ever succeed in proving its effectiveness, let alone in explaining a mechanism of action that is compatible with the state of scientific knowledge. It is highly implausible, contradicts everyday experiences and is also incompatible with natural laws. Any explanatory model of homeopathy would require a massive revision of the valid and proven scientific view of the world. One cannot therefore – especially not as a health insurance company that should position itself credibly and seriously towards its policyholders – retreat to the Hamlet argument of “There is between heaven and earth…”.
In response, it should be sufficient to quote once again the summary of EASAC, the Advisory Board of the European Academies of Science:
“[We conclude] that the claims for homeopathy are implausible and inconsistent with established scientific concepts.
We acknowledge that a placebo effect may appear in individual
patients but we agree with previous extensive evaluations concluding that there are no known diseases for which there is robust, reproducible evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond the placebo effect.”
We conclude from our research that the claims about homeopathy are implausible and contrary to established scientific principles.
We recognize that individual patients may have a placebo effect, but we agree with previous detailed studies and conclude that there is no known disease for which there is robust and replicable evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond this placebo effect.”
This is the valid statement of the scientific world on homeopathy. The position you have formulated is thus untenable according to generally valid rational standards.
3. Why is it not a problem for the SBK to pay for an unprovable form of treatment (= homeopathy), while this is not possible with glasses, for example?
In fact, the statutory health insurance funds are not allowed under German social insurance law to replace homeopathy reimbursements with benefits for spectacles and higher grants for dental prostheses. This is well known to the Homeopathy Information Network and has been explained in detail in an article on its website. Nevertheless, we understand that this is often mentioned as a wish by policyholders who reject homeopathy.
Here, too, we encounter a fundamental misunderstanding in your argumentation when you refer to the possibility granted by law to include homeopathy in the catalogue of statuory benefits. As also mentioned in the article from the INH website quoted above, no health insurance company is forced to do so. You yourself write that reimbursement of the special therapeutic directions is “not excluded” – but that brings your consideration to an end. However, the Federal Social Court has already decided several times that the same criteria of “necessity, economic efficiency and expediency” must be applied to the means of special therapeutic directions (homeopathy, anthroposophy, phytotherapy) as to all other drugs. A relevant social-legal commentary states in agreement: “An advantage of drugs of the special therapy directions with the consequence that quality and effectiveness of the achievements do not correspond to the generally recognized conditions of the medical realizations … contradicts … the legal defaults”.
Already in point 2 it was stated that homeopathy, according to worldwide scientific judgement, contradicts established scientific principles and that there is no reliable and reproducible evidence of specific efficacy for any disease. Such a method can never meet the social security reimbursement requirements of “necessity, cost-effectiveness and expediency” – in our opinion, any health insurance fund that reimburses homeopathy by way of statutory benefits is moving on very thin ice under the current legal situation. In this context, we see interest in the fact that you describe homeopathy as an “unprovable form of treatment” in your statement.
One more word on the objection that even in the field of “normal” medicine, ineffective drugs and methods are paid for: A health insurance company shouldn’t do that either. However, the legal situation here is different: every statutory health insurance fund is for “normal” pharmaceutical drugs and therapeutic methods bound by the approval decisions of the Federal Joint Committee for Drugs and Medicines: What the Federal Joint Committee allows in this area is by law standard benefit of the statutory health insurance funds. It is inconclusive and unreasonable to play this fact off against the reimbursement of homeopathy, for which or against which each statuary insurance fund can decide for itself.
4. What are the annual costs of homeopathic treatments for the contributor?
Here we come to the initial argument, which has led users on Twitter to criticize the statement made by your CEO in this regard. It should suffice to point out that the exclusion of homeopathy from the British public health system was associated with the explicit statement of the NHS (National Health Service) that it was not – not even secondary – a matter of cost savings, but rather of “lack of clinical efficacy” and the resulting “low cost-effectiveness”, i.e. the non-existent cost-benefit ratio. Because: Nothing is always too expensive. From the statements of the other government agencies that removed homeopathy from their health systems in 2017 (Australia and Russia), we also couldn’t find that costs played a role, let alone a decisive one. The same shall apply to the statement of the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Academies of Sciences (EASAC) quoted above. Once more, it is about honesty and probity towards patients, credibility and the best possible care within the healthcare system. The statutory health insurance funds should play a pioneering role in this and not focus on the “wishes” of the insured, but on objectifiable standards. Nihil nocere – above all, do not harm, this old Hippocratic principle also applies here. And damage is – as explained – produced in many ways when statutory health insurers handle homeopathy with their authority as a proven effective method.
5. Why does the SBK not rather reduce the additional contribution (above regular taxes) for policyholders instead of further paying for homeopathic treatments?
The comments made under point 4 make it unnecessary to comment on this matter. Of course, we do not wish to endorse the ‘peanuts’ argument that EUR 1.1 million would not ultimately be important. Every euro of contributions from insured people must be used with due care in the interests of honesty towards the members. For example, the money would be very well spent on voluntary therapies for very rare diseases or similar cases. But this doesn’t affect our core concern.
In principle, we oppose a strategy of health insurance companies to drive on a “competition” that has gone out of control with a “magic shop” full of things that are ineffective, but are “desired” by a certain clientele. The original idea of health policy, to initiate competition within the statuary insurance system via rationalisation effects and the level of contributions, has – as the merger of many health insurance funds makes clear – certainly had its results. However, we consider it fundamentally wrong to extend this to “competition for benefits” as a means of “catching customers”. We also consider it completely out of the question that ineffective and potentially dangerous methods such as homeopathy should be used for this purpose.
Information Network Homeopathy
Dr. Natalie Grams.
Dr. Norbert Aust
Dr. Christian Lübbers