France to halt pay-outs for homeopathy from 2021: minister

Paris (AFP) –


France will stop reimbursing patients for homeopathic treatment from 2021, the health minister said in an interview published Wednesday, after the national health authority argued the alternative medicine had no proven medical benefit.

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the refunds paid by French social security -- currently 30 percent of the treatment -- will be phased down to 15 percent in 2020 and then to zero in 2021.

"I have decided to start the process for complete non-reimbursement," Buzyn told the Le Parisien daily, adding that she was following the advice of the French National Authority for Health (HAS).

She added that the transition period would allow both patients and pharmaceutical companies to adapt to the new system.

The HAS had at the end of June published a damning scientific view, saying that homeopathy had "not demonstrated scientifically a sufficient effectiveness to justify a reimbursement".

Buzyn acknowledged that the move could prove unpopular and emphasised it would not stop doctors prescribing homeopathic medicines or patients from buying them.

French company Boiron, the world leader in homeopathic products, denounced what it said was an "incomprehensible and incoherent decision".

It asked for an urgent meeting with President Emmanuel Macron and said it would "do everything to fight" the decision.

But Buzyn's move also failed to satisfy opponents of homeopathy who said they did not understand the need for the transition period to phase it out.

"Going to 15 percent makes no sense," said Francois Morel of Fakemed, a group of doctors who have waged a high-profile campaign against homeopathy.

"The HAS has made clear the absence of specific effectiveness of homeopathy," he added.

According to official figures, French social security in 2018 paid back patients some 126.8 million euros ($142.2 million) for homeopathic treatment out of a total of 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion) refunded for medicines in total.

Buzyn, a prominent haematologist and university professor with no prior experience in politics before joining the government in 2017, has repeatedly made clear the importance of following scientific advice from the HAS.

According to French press reports, she had made clear that her position was at stake on the homeopathy issue, saying that the scientific credibility of the government was on the line.

Debate has raged about homeopathy since the concept first emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, with critics damning it is no more than pseudoscience.

It is based on the idea that a substance that causes certain symptoms can also help to remove those same symptoms.