Alternative medicine in Switzerland: the controversy

Alternative medicine is a controversial topic, some people think it should have the same status than traditional medicine, others think that only a few of the practices are reliable, others don’t want to hear about anything “new”.

At MedTip we are very optimistic about the times we are living. We believe that we are getting to the point where alternative medicine is finally starting to convince the skeptical.

We wrote this post to make you think about the observable changes we are seeing in the medical approach. We want to give you a short insight of the historical decisions taken by Swiss people and the Swiss government with regards to complementary medicine.

At the end of the post we will explain you what you need to know to integrate alternative medicine to your life and get reimbursed for massages, yoga, nutrition, shiatsu and many other alternative medicine disciplines. If you have only one minute right now, you can jump directly to the last chapter.

Medicine of illness versus medicine of wellness

Traditional healthcare is a reactive concept, when we think about medicine we unconsciously think about healing a specific health issue or disease. We need to wait until something is broken to try to repair it.

This disease-treatment approach is the one traditional medicine follows and consequently we use this same reasoning for alternative medicine. There’s nothing wrong on it, complementary medicine can help you healing and there’s nothing more important that recovering your health, however there is another side of alternative medicine that needs to be highlighted.

Practices like meditation, shiatsu, and osteopathy have a different place in our minds. Nowadays people integrating these practices on their lives see them as a healthy habit for a better life. The same way we choose to practice sports or eating less processed food, we start to see these disciplines as life choices for a fulfilled, happier and healthier existence.

This is a transition from the medicine of illness to the medicine of well-being. At Med tip we are very happy about it, we truly believe it is a step forward for a better world, and we do care about it. And yes we are romantic hearts. 

We really hope you are already on that state of mind, if that is the case we are here to help you better understand the complementary medicine universe, the regulations behind it and how you can profit of an enormous choice of techniques for just a few francs a month.

What do we mean by Complementary / Alternative Medicine

One of the main challenges comes on defining what complementary medicine is. The truth is that no one has the right definition of complementary or alternative medicine so we have created our own.

In MedTip we like to see alternative medicine as the free and spontaneous answer from society to its own uncovered well-being needs. We think that all the practices that today fall in the alternative medicine umbrella were developed by someone (see group of people) who had the intention to help with his knowledge. This philanthropic help evolved naturally to become a new practice. These practices not being recognized by the State as a branch of traditional medicine were called alternative or complementary medicine.

We will not be able to tell you when all this started. Should we consider prehistoric herbal medicine as the beginning? Were the shamanistic practices of ancient tribes part of complementary medicine? Do we really need to categorize, classify and label everything? We don’t believe so but when it comes to applying regulation this is a need.

The road to become a recognized practice

Defining alternative medicine is not easy and something that cannot be easily categorized and bounded is difficult to rule. Regulation of complementary medicine is a current challenge for every government.

If we take a look back changing the status quo or defending new ideas has never been easy. Galileo was condemned to house arrest for defending that the sun was the center of the galaxy and during many years we were unable to decide if the earth was flat or spherical.Let’s face it we haven’t been great embracing changes.  

Historically only violent revolutions or social uprising have led to major changes on the status quo. Fortunately we have improved since then and we don’t need to go that far for complementary medicine in Switzerland.

 

 

 

You already know that Switzerland is a direct democracy, that means that ultimately the Swiss people is consulted on major decisions, whether they come from the government or from a popular initiative. Swiss citizens have been called to vote on matters as important as the right of vote for women, the use of nuclear energy, a minimum wage and many others.

Coming back to complementary medicine, we were using plants and herbs way before Galileo was born, you can guess that alternative medicine has been on the spot for a few years now. You are right, and the Swiss population had also the chance to give their opinion.  We will speak about this but first we need to look at the global perspective, how did the institutional opinion evolve?

 

World and Swiss institutions opinions on Complementary Medicine

1990

Due to the raising interest in complementary medicine the Swiss National Science Foundation takes on a National Research Program (NRP 34) to asses the social and economic importance of complementary medicine. 5 years, 15 projects and 6 millions of francs after that we conclude that:

  • During this period most Europeans countries have also started their own projects to asses the importance of complementary medicine practices. We are not alone 🙂
  • Complementary medicine consultations are already (1990) an important part of the medical consultations of the population but traditional medicine is preferred when illness is detected.
  • The border between traditional and alternative medicine is blurred. It would be advisable to understand them as elements of a unique healthcare regulatory system.

2001

The World Health Organization publishes an extensive report on the legal status of Complementary Medicine. We resume the conclusions for Switzerland as:

  • Consultations have been driven by illness but also to improve well-being and to keep from falling ill. Hop Suisse!.
  • 80% of those having a complementary insurance have consulted a complementary medicine practitioner.
  • 44% of those not having an insurance for alternative medicine have consulted an alternative medicine practitioner.

2002

The  Swiss Health Observatory publishes a report analyzing Swiss population healthcare access over different classifications, regional, age, gender, etc. We learn that even with a restricted set of what they consider complementary medicine.

  • 20% of the Swiss population did have a consultation in the last year.
  • 25% in German- speaking switzerlnd.
  • 15% in French-speaking Swizerland. Yes, we are a bit behind.

The low numbers of the last report are explained by the restricted set of practices considered. When you look at the reports closely you see the acces to complementary medicine is a rising trend. What is the current status in Switzerland?

Swiss current regulation: a back and forth history

The recogntion and reimbursement of Alternative Medicine in the compulsory healthcare insurance (LAMal) has been subject of controversy, regulatory changes and popular claim. We could write a long (longest than this one) post on it but we prefer to give you just the highlights

Without going into too much details, the main takeaway is that the reimbursement of  alternative medicine practices is a mandate of the Swiss population and it has been written in the constitution. We think this is just AWESOME.

Despite the fact that this is a great progress, there is still a long way to go.

The popular initiative “yes to complementary medicine” was a call to reimburse all alternative medicine methods and it was supported by 67% of the population. The current situation is that LAMal reimburses exclusively the disciplines below

✔ antropophosic medicine
✔ traditional chinese medicine
✔ homeopathy
✔ phytotherapie

These disciplines are reimbursed solely if dispended by a doctor who has followed the traditional medicine studies and has also obtained a diploma recognized by FMH (Swiss Medical Organization) on any of those four practices. That leaves you with very few options to get reimbursed by the basic insurance. link

How to get access to Alternative Medicine reimbursement for a few francs a month.

We explained  in our post about the structure of healthcare insurance that in order to get a good reimbursement for massages, shiatsu, meditation and a wide spectrum of complementary practices you need to subscribe a complementary insurance. The good news is that most of these insurances range between 25 and 40 CHF a month,  we think you deserve to invest this amount on your well being!

Reimbursement for complementary medicine is pretty easy.

  • You find the practice and practitioner you would like to try. You can use our site for that.
  • You call your insurance to clear out the reimbursement. We strongly recommend that
  • You pay the bill and send it to you insurer for reimbursement

The reimbursement you get depends on the insurance you subscribe and the offers are diverse. You may get a fixed amount, a fixed percentage or a variable percentage. You can also get an offer with expenses limits, without limits or with limits by discipline. You may have a deductible or you may opt for reimbursement from the first session.

Getting all the above information is not easy, more often than not insurers will ask you for a private meeting in order to explain you the offer (and seduce you with their sales skills). To help you with that we have created a table and five simple advices.

Alternative medicine reimbursement compared. Deductibles, limits, practitioners, prices and more.

When comparing complementary insurance for alternative medicine you should focus on the below

  1. Reimbursement rate. Not all offers reimburse the same amount of a treatment.
  2. Deductible. Some insurers will ask you to pay the full treatment cost up to a certain amount and then start reimbursing.
  3. Expenses limit. Some insurances have a limit, out of which they will not reimburse you (i.e. 3000 CHF).
  4. How easy is to get a list of therapies and therapist that are reimbursed and how inclusive is this list.
  5. Price. Obviously. In fact, this should be the less important of the criteria. Most insurances are in the range of 25 to 40 CHF a month. This is probably less than what you pay for your phone subscription. Now, what is more important your health or your phone? We know you may not want to answer that 😀

You can find the information you need to compare the different offers in the table below. We cannot give you a price but we will give you an indication of where the offer sits compared with the rest.

Our final Tips

Choose an offer without deductible, if you need to pay 4 or 5 CHF more a month, just do it! You still win at the end of the year 😉
Choose a provider that has a list of practitioners that you can consult easily, unless you like waiting in the hotline to ask for permission
Pay attention to the expenses limit. A regular session of most practices will cost you between 100 and 200 CHF
Prior to consulting any practitioner do always call the insurer to ask if he is reimbursed, even if you see it on the list. This will avoid surprises

You can swipe the table up, down, right and left. Insurers can change their offers at their discretion but we think this is a good starting point for your research

OFFERREIMBURSEMENTDEDUCTIBLEEXPENSE LIMITTHERAPISTSPRICEOVERALL
GROUPE CSS*
  • MyFlex Eco
  • Balance
  • Premium
75% NO
  • 1000
  • 3000
  • 10000
Limited( list with a subset of the RME methods). download here $$$
SWICA *
  • TOP
  • PRAEVENTA
  • OPTIMA

  • 80 CHF/h
  • 80 CHF/h
  • 100%
NO NO extensive list
details
$
EGK
  • level 1
  • level 2
  • level 3
  • flex
3 methods/year
12 sessions per method
70 CHF /session

  • no
  • no
  • 300
  • no
see reimbursement call at 032 623 64 80 $$$
SANITAS CLASSIC 80% NO 5000 extensive list
details
$$$
GROUPE MUTUELLE BONUS 90% 150 NO all of this $$$$
GROUPE MUTUELLE ALTERNA 80% NO NO very limited
details
$$
GROUPE MUTUELLE SOINS COMPLEMENTAIRES
  • level 1
  • level 2
  • level 3
  • level 4
70 CHF / session choice between 0 and 50 CHF

  • 500
  • 2000
  • 3000
  • 4000
all of this $$$
GROUPE MUTUELLE COMBINEE GLOBAL
  • level 1
  • level 2
  • level 3
  • level 4
70 CHF / session choice between 0 and 150 CHF
  • 2000
  • 2000
  • 3000
  • 4000
all of this $$$
ASSURA
  • MEDNA
  • NATURA

  • 80 CHF/h
  • 90CHF/h max 110 CHF
200 CHF
  • NO
  • NATURA


  • very limited
  • good with reserves details
$
VISANA*
  • MED COMP I
  • MED COMP II
90% NO
  • 1000
  • 4000
extensive list
details
$$$
HELSANA
  • SANA
  • COMPLETA
75% NO NO call at 0844 80 81 82 details $$
*These insurances cannot be purchased alone, you will need to add another complementary insurance to be eligible for the offer

Do you have any question you like us to answer?  You don’t find your insurer on the list? Anything you want to share with us?  Tell us on the comments section below and we will answer it.

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