x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE alternative medicine practitioners want better insurance coverage

UAE practitioners of alternative medicine are hoping for better insurance coverage of alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy.

Practitioners of alternative medicine are demanding better coverage by insurance companies.

"Many of our local patients are sad that [acupuncture] is not covered by Thiqa," said Dr Hu Qiwen of the Gulf Chinese Medical Centre, referring to the national insurance plan for Emiratis. "Expatriates are only covered by a high-grade card."

One important and often forgotten benefit of complementary medicine is its role in prevention, experts say.

"If insurance companies would look at that they would see at the end they will save money," said Dr Maria Ridao Alonso, managing and medical director of the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre.

"You start treating much earlier, you detect things, you get people into a healthier lifestyle."

Acupuncture is gaining wider acceptance among insurance systems in the West, including the US, the UK and Germany.

In the UK, acupuncture is covered by the National Health Service (NHS) for certain conditions. Homeopathy is also covered, despite the Select Committee on Science and Technology concluding in 2010 that there is no evidence that it works beyond the placebo effect.

The UK department of health decided to continue offering homeopathy as a choice to its members. The decision is under review.

It is estimated that the NHS spends between £3-4 million annually on homeopathic treatment.

In the UAE, the coverage of alternative medicine is limited to those with high-end health insurance.

"Unfortunately, Thiqa does not cover our services," said Dr Naseem Khan Afridi, a homeo physician at the Homoeopathic Medical Specialized Clinic in Abu Dhabi. "UAE nationals can go anywhere to any hospital for [traditional] health care, yet they don't … they choose to come here and pay us."

Thiqa does not cover any alternative treatment unless it is medically prescribed.

Daman, the national insurance company, offers alternative medicine as an optional benefit in its enhanced plans and as a standard in its Premier plan. It covers herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, Chinese medicine and ayurvedic treatment.

"We include it as an optional benefit with a limit because there is still more medical research on an international level that needs to be done on the subject," said Sven Rohte, Daman's chief commercial officer. "Since we are responsible in protecting our members' funds we would focus on conventional treatments which have documented research to prove their effectiveness."

Other insurance companies also hold a similar stance.

A consultation with a practitioner at the Homoeopathic Medical Specialized Clinic costs Dh170, but could be more for chronic diseases. The Gulf Chinese Medical Centre charges Dh100 for a consultation and Dh150 per acupuncture session. Dr Hu says that most chronic pains can be cured in five sessions. A package of five acupuncture sessions at the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre costs Dh750.

Figures from the Dubai Health Authority 2011 annual report show that nearly 60,000 people in the emirate sought alternative medicine, with homeopathy accounting for nearly a quarter of visits.

mismail@thenational.ae