Alternative medicine quacks show their greedy side

Congress is on holiday this month, but the lobbyists are baiting their hooks, planning their strategies for how to get more money for themselves.

A growing lobby is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) providers, who have discovered a new opportunity to extract even more money from patients than they do already. They want the government to force insurance providers to pay for quack treatments, regardless of whether or not the treatments work. Any attempt to require evidence, they argue, amounts to discrimination.

Discrimination? Yes! We must not allow the government to exclude health care providers just because those providers don't cure anything.  The CAMmers argument boils down to this: we have patients who want our services.  The patients like us. In some cases, thanks to lobbying at the state level, we even have state-approved licenses. Therefore insurance companies must pay for our services.


To be specific, the CAMmers are lobbying furiously to try to protect a special clause in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that promises them a fertile new ground for making money from vulnerable patients.

The strategy is simple: require the government to fund any treatment that a patient wants, and dress this up as "patient choice."  Then if insurance companies resist paying for ineffective treatments, accuse them of discriminating against the poor, hapless "integrative medicine" providers.

Thus through a diabolical twist of illogic, if Obamacare doesn't cover homeopathy, or naturopathy, or acupuncture, or magnetic energy healing, or any other so-called alternative therapy, it's discrimination.

The mind boggles.

Why is this an issue now?  Because, unbeknownst to most people outside the Washington beltway, two pro-CAM lobbying groups slipped a clause into the ACA, section 2706, that attempts to force insurance providers to cover a wide range of quack practices.  This section requires that insurers
"shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider's license or certification under applicable state law."
Sounds harmless, right?  Well, no.  This language was added to the ACA by Senator Tom Harkin, after heavy lobbying by the American Chiropractic Association and the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium.  In fact, it is virtually certain that lobbyists wrote the section, and Harkin simply inserted it into the law. The IHPC is a lobbying group dedicated to obtaining more government money for homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and a raft of other ineffective medical practices.

Section 2706 opens the door to anyone who provides what they claim is health care - no matter how ridiculous the claim - to file a lawsuit claiming discrimination if an insurance company won't pay for their services.  You could start offering dried bird poop for arthritis, call it "avian nature therapy," and if an insurer won't pay for it, you can sue.

Some in Congress have realized how truly bad an idea this is, and just a few weeks ago, a new bill was introduced to get rid of it, HR 2817.  The American Medical Association supports the new bill. This has some CAM proponents alarmed.

Over at the Huffington Post, John Weeks, an outspoken apologist for questionable medical practices, offers the predictable, whining claim that this is all about "discrimination" by legitimate health care providers (the big, bad AMA) against poor, defenseless integrative medicine providers.

Make no mistake: this is all about greed.  The CAM industry sees Obamacare as a chance to reap huge profits, by forcing insurance companies to pay for ineffective treatments, including many that are wildly implausible.

Homeopaths, naturopaths, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, energy healers, and other CAM practitioners don't want to subject their methods to rigorous tests of effectiveness.  They know that their methods have failed scientific scrutiny, time and time again.  So now they want to force health care providers to pay for anything the patient wants. "Our patients believe us," they argue, "so pay us."

Forcing health care providers to pay for anything a patient wants, even if it doesn't work, is guaranteed to drive up costs, without any benefit to patients.  Let's ditch this bogus "discrimination" clause in the ACA, and insist that all medical care be held to the same high, scientifically rigorous standards.


  1. But, but...Dr. Oz says these things WORK--and he's a respected CARDIOLOGIST, and all my friends have anecdotes as well, so it must be true! Science doesn't know everything, ya know. Besides, I can't understand it and Gary Null says he knows more than those allopaths, and Jenny MCarthy says "trust the Mommies", and they put it in a way I can understand so they must be right!
    Unless we, as a society, deal with this kind of (widespread) thinking, this kind of activity is going to continue.

    If we can't repeal this, then I say pay them commensurate with their education and start having some real regulations about curriculum, residencies and internships in addition to the "schooling".

    1. This one apparently hit a nerve in the CAM community. See the comments section of my Forbes blog for many, many protestations and much name-calling directed at me. But no response to my central point that they are trying to force insurance companies to pay them more.

    2. Science also is being abused by the drug companies. They got "science" to lower the cholesterol levels so they could sell more drugs that have really bad side effects. They tell us that we need to put sun screen on all day, every single day of our lives. Stop eating the meat we humans were meant to eat. Look at our teeth people. Much of what is being passed off as science is really just the current idea. Remember when they said to stop eating butter and eat margarine? Remember when they said that eggs were bad for you. Then two decade later they change their minds. That means that much of "science" is also really pseudoscience.
      That does not mean however that insurance companies should have to pay for all this crap. Some things have been proven to help, like stem cell therapy, acupuncture, etc. Those that have some validity they should be forces to pay for. Stuff with no back up as to their actual worth, no. That would just force the insurance companies to increase the premiums.

  2. @SS

    Ack! Don't think I can handle plowing through all that! I'll take your word for it. :-)

    It was the same when the Mayor of Portland, OR put out a lengthy and detailed (with real references of high quality) when the City was finally going to fluoridate the water (I lived there for many years). The site was deluged with comments that took absolutely no notice of any of the well-documented FACTS that were presented in plain language. These people succeeded in a referendum effort to block the fluoridation. Ghastly business!

  3. Just to support your article - I spend hundreds of dollars on alternative therapies from practicioners who were very friendly to me, as they were to taking my weekly amouints of money. After a while, the sessions added up, and my alternative therapists reminded me that I was doing deeper work for the betterment of the Universe. So I just followed along, never questioing myself if alternative therapy actually works. As I look back, my payments were more for the betterment of my alternative therapist's income. Alternative theerapies are not backed up by serious scientific studies, instead it's advertised by people claiming the conventional model is wrong and they're right. And nitwited people like myself, who are vulnerable to anything that seems like a cure in either mental health ior medical problems blindly follow. I've done alternative therapy over several years, and I can just say I was under the guise of placebo following the biggest quack on the planet. If only, I had seen how quacky alternative therapists are.


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