Should taxpayers subsidise natural therapies?

There’s been little action on a 2015 government report that concluded 17 types of natural therapies offered through health insurance hadn’t been proven to work on patients. The natural therapies are currently taxpayer funded by way of the $6 billion-plus rebate on health insurance premiums.

From the article:

Let us know your thoughts on subsidised natural therapies. Does the system need to change or are their things the review did not consider?

Read the full article:

But Choice itself ignores natural therapies. When there was a review of products to reduce hay fever, it reported only on medical remedies, all of which induce drowsiness. But when, after several years of discomfort, I changed over to a naturopathic treatment - voila - the symptoms stopped, and no drowsiness to boot. When I wrote to Alan Kirkland criticising the Choice review, his reply was that the product I was using was not recognised by the medical profession. Come on, Choice, let’s have another, fuller and complete overview and not kowtow to the medical profession because, ultimately, we are all consumers.


I very strongly support the (valid) evidence based approach to medicine. I don’t care where or how the treatment originates. If it can’t be shown to work, then it should not be subsidised.

I understand that some people believe in alternate therapies and by the placebo effect they believe it helps, but I would argue that if they were informed of the validity of a ‘science based’ therapy they could receive the same placebo value, with a reduced potential for harmful side effects, and reduced chance of making the malady worse by a lack of a valid treatment.

Also, I would suggest that this topic dovetails with

My comments there apply here too:


I think both sides (mainstream and alternative) have issues with vested interest/proof/etc on occasion but in general I agree, proof of efficacy through formal trials/etc or don’t spend public money on it …


I also support evidence based approach. That is treatments which have been proven scientifically and where possible, peer reviewed…rather than that based on anecdotal opinions of users who may have no real benefits over a placebo.

If someone wishes to trial an alternative treatment, then the treatment should not subsidised by the taxpayers and the individual should be up for the full cost of such treatments. If at some stage in the future the treatment is proven scientifically to have a positive medical effect, then such time such treatments could be considered for subsidies.

There is always the argument about conflicts of interest or commercial benefits or promoting one treatment over another, however, most conflicts can be can be removed if the treatment is scientifically proven and also where it involves a medicine, is on the PBS.

Otherwise, the costs to the taxpayer will continue to increase as more individuals search for (miracle) treatments on the internet and try and source such treatments even if they are not recommended by medical professionals.

It has also been reported that some natural therapies can be very dangerous, such as using chiropractic treatments on infants for conditons which aren’t not neuromuscular disorders.

It should be a little like the PBS (from my understanding), where Aust-R can be included on the PBS for subsidy, but Aust-L which may have no proven benefits can’t.


If you look at the scientific literature, chiropathy is shown to be useful for lower back pain, and to a much lesser degree headaches and some joint pain.

eg: (Google Scholar)
(Chiropractic | Science-Based Medicine)

The literature also shows practitioners have killed people, and caused many traumatic injuries including paralysis, heart attacks, and strokes as a consequence of ‘manipulations’. And lets not forget the damage caused by the snake oil salesmen claims quite a few chiropractors made for curing all manner of non-skeletal ailments, including obviating the need for childhood immunizations.

If I understand the literature correctly, there is nothing chiropathy offers that other proven modalities of physiotherapy cannot offer.

To make matters worse, some universities here
(Bachelor of Science (Chiropractic) - CQUniversity,
and overseas
(Chiropractic education - Wikipedia)
are attempting to validate chiropathy by offering it as a course.

How can you teach a subject which is not evidence based in a science degree??? Surely that goes aganst everything science stands for. It is a sceptical retrograde path in my opinion and in the opinion of medical doctors (There's no place for pseudo-scientific chiropractic in Australian universities).


The Uni I went to had a “Political Science” degree on offer … had for years … still do, though the primary name no longer has ‘science’ in it …

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We could add economics to the list, no?


Mm, I can only relate my own experience, but on the whole I think the money in rebates offered for natural therapies should all be scraped. There are so many people out in society offering advice under the " umbrella " of " hey " try this and I will charge you through the nose for this advice; you will be all better after this treatment. What a absolute " crock of … ". Most of the advice natural health therapists give; that these so called people are called professionals, pfft; offer is freely available for starters to be learned by anyone with the semblance of average intelligence in a plethora of various information platforms. I could prattle on endlessly about this topic, and the multitude of charlatans professing the natural way foreward to one’s alignment in the natural holistic way forward to alleviating your ailment; but I shant. I shall only suggest if you are tired of the standard medical diagnostic, remedy path in life, then take a interest in your own health to investigate what you can do yourself to better your own health, instead of paying your hard earned money to people that are at best only interested in making a dollar from your discomfort. If at the end of the day you wish to pay people to do something for you that within this topic you could most probably do yourself then I think you should foot the bill, and not the taxpayer. I will now put my soap box away, and wish you all a peaceful road in life. Cheers for reading.

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I have not been exposed to anything called “economic science”, however I am aware of many pollies (and some others) who are very economical with anything related to science or the scientific process, regardless of how phrased.

It is once again time to post my link to the storyofstuff video. Although the focus is meant to be environmental awareness, the precepts of modern economics are eloquently explained at 11:50.

Although 2007 and apologies for the US-centric origin, I contend they nailed it. For those just wanting some bullet points, here are they are

Would the content be science or common sense, or both, or simply animated ‘lefty BS’ as some would have us believe?

Consumerism? Once there was ibuprofen and paracetamol. Now there is ibuprofen with paracetamol at a premium price for the convenience. Just Wow when slight of hand repackaging creates new and successful products.

And a PS for tax payer subsidies, unless this was addressed in recent years, some scripts can be cheaper purchased non-PBS than with PBS, but then they do not count for the safety net!


many people who use complimentary medicine look after their health and are more likely to make less claims
So really it is a plus for health insurance companies and their customers.
When I worked as a nurse a large portion of staff used alternative and complimentary medicine.
It is used in Oncology wards as an adjunct therapy and has helped with side effects of chemotherapy as well as helping with patients mental health and making there last day a little easier.
Too much focus on people always thinking they are being taken for a ride.


I think Leanne Wells’ position is fair and balanced in that it would remove the taxpayer subsidy component of the funding for these services but still allow for private funds to offer them if consumers want to try them. I felt strongly enough about this to change my provider to one that offered an extras package that did not include them.


If private funds offer cover for these unproven treatments, they should be in a separate policy so the rest of us don’t pay for them.


I agree. I have just read a fascinating book called cracked which exposes something of the dodgy practice in psychiatry and also pharmaceuticals, where ‘evidence’ shows that the strong medication are no better than a placebo! They are supposed to be a ‘reputable’ medical profession, however it is still very new compared to others and they are medicalising ‘normal’ behavioral responses to life experiences.


I see my shrink once a week and I am currently on the maximum dose of five antidepressants. Before commencing this treatment I was subjected to multiple courses of ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) which greatly affected my short term memory and had questionable results. Do not assume to be an expert on the subject and do not dismiss psychiatry as bunkum.

Today I am able to function relatively normally for most of the time although despite several attempts I am still unable to hold down a job. I have my psychiatrist to thank for this. My results are far from coming from any placebo effect.

If it works for you that is great. I was mentioning research. And it has a 50/50 response rate with the meds and the placebo. Therefore you would be in the 50% that gets results from meds. However the researched book also said that 50% will also get the same result with only the placebo. My personal experience with the profession is not as favourable as yours, each to his own.

A lot of people use something, doesn’t qualify as proof of efficacy. Look at how much money is being spent on useless & even dangerous vitamins, supplements, and miracle cures.

The issue being discussed in this thread is with natural therapies being paid for by taxpayers’ money which have no proven efficacy, or even worse are harmful either directly, or indirectly by distracting people away from proven therapies which would help.

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To my way of thinking there’s a simple solution to this problem. For those of us who don’t believe in these alternative therapies and are therefore certain that we’ll never use them, we should have a premium reduction to reflect the reduced insurance risk. The insurers could then offer an Alternative Therapies Extras option for anyone who wanted to take it up.
By the way, I love that Tim Minchin line: “What do you call an alternative medicine which works? Answer: medicine.”


I’m a registered nurse and I wholeheartedly believe and use alternative therapies to help an auto immune disease I have acquired. I have found them so useful I am able to take less medication, less side effects from the drugs, less pain and less inflammation. I would love to know where they did their research to say the therapies don’t work. Perhaps they are like a few other large companies that make the research outcome what they want it to say. I really feel sorry for those with closed minds


You may characterise having doubts as having a closed mind if you wish, others may see it as healthy. The effectiveness of treatment does not follow from some individual reporting good results (which may be for various reasons) but from positive results in a properly conducted study. By all means keep up with your treatment if it makes you feel better. That does not mean that such suits other people or should be taxpayer subsidised. Claiming that the evidence for more conventional views is faked is very popular with conspiracy theorists and contrarians of all kinds. No doubt fakery exists in this evil world but we should not accept this as a blanket explanation for the discrepancy between minority and conventional views with no direct evidence.