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Sinead Ryan: Why should my expensive health insurance pay for quackery like homeopathy and reflexology?

JUST like everyone else, I'm suffering from the anxieties and strains of everyday life in the recession.

And when it all gets on top of me, the best therapy is meeting up with a few girlfriends for a glass of wine, a trip to the cinema or a lovely manicure. We all have our own ways of coping.

Isn't it great when your insurance company picks up the tab for it?

No, of course it doesn't pay the bill. Why would health insurers pick up the tab for a bit of relaxation and 'me time', no matter how much one can claim it improves ones well-being?

So why on earth are our health insurance companies paying for other 'therapies' as if they were legitimate medical expenses?

Our health insurance costs a lot -- and is likely to go up again. Yet Aviva, VHI and Quinn all pay towards, well, to put it mildly, off-beat practitioners.

And that means that people like me, who believe in real science, are paying for it in our exorbitant annual premiums. Alternative health quacks like homeopaths, reflexologists and acupuncturists are covered under many insurance policies sold in Ireland. What next? Faith healers and Aura specialists?

Buying into nonsensical, unproven and unregulated woo-woo medicine is not the job of our insurers. Homeopathy, in particular, has been completely discounted scientifically, with not one single study that proves its efficacy.

"But it works," whine the stream of gullible people who part with their hard-earned cash to ingest water (good old H2O and nothing more), which has been diluted to the strength of one drop per swimming pool-full and which is alleged to cure everything from arthritis to infertility by retaining a 'memory'. Worse still, it's given to children by parents who should know better and might put off seeing a real doctor instead.

Reflexology relies on an invisible life force called 'Qi' and involves manipulating the feet, which are mysteriously linked to kidneys, heart and brain. That makes sense, so. No need for actual doctors then for those body parts?


Imagine how a cardiac surgeon feels after 15 years of training in a real medical school, a real hospital with real patients, just to find out that poking about with the big toe can do the job just as well as a heart bypass. Better tell the HSE -- we've just solved their funding problem in one fell swoop.

No wonder our insurance premiums are so high if they're forking out on this rubbish. Aviva even covers 'baby massage therapy' on its policies -- 25 sessions of it at €35 a pop, along with reflexology, acupuncture and homeopathy. And, wait for it, "medical herbalists", who "treat diseases in such forms as teas, capsules and creams".

Wonder if they're rubbing any on poor old John Delaney of the FAI, who's feeling the pressure of filling Aviva's wonderfully expensive stadium.

Over at the State-sponsored VHI, things are no better. They pay €35 for each of seven visits to acupuncturists or reflexologists too.

Even Quinn pays out €160 for up to eight visits to a toe wiggler, and €240 to a water shaker.

Well, why not give it to a psychic or tarot reader -- they'll tell you even quicker if you're ready to kick the bucket. Thankfully, the HSE stops short at providing such nonsense on the medical card.

It's bad enough that private premiums are used for it, but taxes would be a step too far.


"Homeopathic products do not meet these (Irish Medicines Board) criteria and, accordingly, are not eligible for inclusion on the common list," the department says primly, and only approves medicines that are "supplied to the public on foot of a medical prescription".

The placebo effect is well known, documented and, yes, proven, but this is no reason to pay money toward it except in drug trials.

The insurers don't pay for people to travel to Lourdes for prayer healing, or for hot stone treatment in a day spa.

But can I get a reduction on my premium if I opt out of all the fairy-tale nonsense? Of course not. Ah well, I'm just off to wiggle my toes in a dilute substance. I'm sure I'll feel much better afterwards.