Non-Clinical Therapies Excluded from Private Health Cover

Natural therapies, including yoga, will be excluded from health cover next year.

A hit list of natural therapies including naturopathy, yoga and Pilates will be excluded from private health cover next year unless they are offered only as incentives.

Despite petitions from the natural therapy industry, which argues many Australians use the treatments to stay well, the Federal Health Department confirmed this week that 16 items would not be funded under health insurance policies that were government-subsidised.

From April next year, Alexander Technique, aromatherapy, Bowen therapy, Buteyko, Feldenkrais, herbalism, homeopathy, iridology, kinesiology, naturopathy, reflexology, Rolfing and shiatsu will not be covered.

Popular fitness and wellbeing practices such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi will also be excluded.

Changes were foreshadowed by Health Minister Greg Hunt last October, after a Commonwealth review queried the benefits of most natural therapies.

The Australian Natural Therapists Association met Mr Hunt to argue against the changes but a Health Department spokeswoman confirmed the therapies would be removed from private health insurance packages. “Commonwealth funding is typically only paid where a therapy has demonstrated clinical efficacy,” she said.

“Therefore, the Australian Government has decided to remove private health insurance coverage for these services from complying health insurance products that attract the private health insurance rebate.

“It is important that practitioners note that some private health insurers provide access to gym services and other products as incentives under their insurance.”

She said private health insurers would still be able to provide natural therapies when they did not attract a government rebate.

HBF chief executive John Van Der Wielen said he believed his industry had gone too far covering non-clinical therapies and he believed reforms must go further.

“I’m outspoken on this, and it’s not a criticism of alternative therapies and medicines, but it goes back to the core principle of insurance, and I’m self-critical of the industry, including HBF,” he said.

“Health insurers have spent a lot of time innovating and paying more on rebates on a Fitbit or massage therapy, and that has added a benefit but also a cost.

“If you come from outside the health industry it doesn’t make sense that your fund won’t pay for a GP visit but it will pay for Reiki.”