What’s going on, Teachers Health Fund ?

A reader has sent me a copy of some pages from a magazine called “Health Matters“, a quarterly published by Australia’s biggest private health insurance fund for teachers, Teachers Health, that in its latest edition features “an introduction to alternative therapies“.

Now, my most charitable interpretation of those pages is that they have some rogue alt-med kook there among the staff who produce this magazine. The alternative scenario is that Teachers Health is wasting the money of their members, by advocating and financing discredited and useless complimentary medicine nonsense like homeopathy and naturopathy.

Of course Teachers Health is not the only private health insurer that offers alternative or complimentary medicine treatments for members, in fact most health funds do, and I always wonder how they justify wasting the money of their paying members on this nonsense, but I guess by offering these extras the funds reach a bigger clientele and it makes sense for them that way.
It is an entirely different matter however, if a fund appears to be trying to justify those treatments by publishing falsehoods and inaccuracies about the efficacy of homeopathy or naturopathy in their member magazine.

Exhibit A :

This Law of Similars, as it is called, is a practical method of finding the substance to which a person is sensitive.

A practical method ? Says who ? We aren’t told, this falsehood is just asserted with no evidence provided. In fact, the “Law of Similars” is complete and utter nonsense, there is no logical or scientific reason why a substance that produces a symptom X should cure the same symptom X in someone else. And neither Hahnemann or his followers have ever shown this “Law” to hold true in any studies that would hold up to scientific scrutiny.

From the same page:

Homeopathy was developed over 200 years ago and is now used worldwide. Its effectiveness has been clearly established by over 200 years of clinical experience and has a pharmacy of over 2000 medicines, which are non-toxic and non-addictive.

Yes, this kind of pseudomedical woo is indeed used worldwide. That’s not exactly an argument for its efficacy however, more a clumsy ad populum. As to saying that the effectiveness of homeopathy has been clearly established, one wants to ask just one question : Where ? Can Teachers Health please point me to the relevant studies that show any efficacy of homeopathy ? Can they in fact show me any proof that a homeopathic medicine beyond a 12C dilution contains a single molecule of the ingredient it claims to contain ?
Whether it’s the Law of Similars, or the potentisation of substances by dilution, these are magical ideas that have no basis in real biochemistry or pharmacology. It’s woo, pure and simple.

The use of Ritalin, a stimulant drug for children suffering from hyperactivity, is an example of the use of the unacknowledged application of Homeopathy in contemporary (orthodox) medicine.

This paragraph just makes no sense whatsoever. Ritalin is Methylphenidate, an amphetamin-like drug that has well-established effects and side effects, and is by the way not only used for ADD, but also for narcolepsy and a condition called POTS. It’s a drug, it does stuff. Unlike homeopathic “medicines”. That paragraph is a mystery to me.

Exhibit B :

Naturopathy is a holistic approach to wellness based on the principle that the body has the inherent ability to heal itself.

It does ? How does it work ? I’m not familiar with any physiological explanation for this “theory”, nor for any evidence for naturopathy having any effects beyond the placebo effect. We should all have a massage every now and then, eat a healthy diet and do some exercise ! But that’s lifestyle advice, not medicine.

Naturopathic treatments boost the body’s natural healing potential, restoring harmony and preventing disease.

They do ? I’d like to see some evidence for that ! Well, how about a personal anecdote :

I tried Naturopathy because I was getting sick far too often, and I was tired of seeing the doctor and being on antibiotics to heal my coughs and colds. My Naturopath identified that my immune defenses were low and that I had been on antibiotics too frequently, so she prescribed a course of natural remedies[]

So some guy gets antibiotics for a self-limiting disease, doesn’t get better, then takes naturopathic “medicine”, and lo, he does get better ! Well, that story sure has me convinced ! What I am very curious about is how the naturopath identified that this person’s “immune defenses” were “down”. Somehow I doubt that it involved measuring a T-cell count.

It’s every health fund’s business what extras they offer to their members, and if some people find naturopathic remedies soothing, or are convinced that homeopathy works because their genital rash went away at the same time they bought the homeopathic itch reliever, then I have no issues with adults doing that (Not so with children, by the way).
What I do object to however, is if a fund tries to justify or rationalize these expenses by presenting false and inaccurate information to their members, which is what seems to have happened here.
I would like to see that Teachers Health rectifies these problems on their website or in the next issue of their magazine. Otherwise people might get the impression that the fund has no problem advocating non-working and disproven “remedies” as medicine, and that it is happily wasting the member dollars of their customers to pay for these useless therapies.
I have written to Teachers Health and asked for a clarification of their position on the things advocated in this magazine, but haven’t heard back yet.

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