When Europe and Dubai can have health insurance coverage for traditional treatments, then why not India, asks Mukesh Batra, founder of the eponymous homeopathy clinics network.

It will be a game-changer, he says, referring to the largely unaddressed segment of people being treated by traditional systems of medicine. Batra’s is not a lone voice. Experts have in the past pointed to the paradox of traditional treatments not getting the kind of support they deserve, despite local popularity.

“We have brought it up with the Health and Finance Ministries,” says Naresh Trehan, cardiac surgeon and founder Medanta – The Medicity. It is necessary, he adds, especially when there is so much talk of Ayush (Ayurveda,Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy).

In fact, foreign markets seem to extend greater support to traditional treatments, while the home-turf that has been found wanting. Treatment provided at Batra’s homeopathy clinics in Dubai are reimbursed by 11 insurance companies, he says, including cashless facilities from insurers Saico and Amity.

Exploring a Switzerland foray, he points out that the country recently recognised homoeopathy. A person who pays for a medical cover of allopathic treatment now can pay a small amount for homoeopathy coverage, as well. No separate premium, just an additional amount for homoeopathy, he explains. Compared to this, India’s virtual absence of reimbursement systems for traditional medicine strikes a sharp contrast, especially as Prime Minister Modi promotes Yoga in India and abroad.

A small beginning seems to have been made but it requires greater infusion of dynamism and political will. In 2015, the Cabinet had cleared insurance coverage for homoeopathy and Ayurveda, says Batra. But as with all health insurance, it falls short of being useful as it covers only hospitalisation, when in fact most treatment is out-patient. The Government should make the coverage valid for people being treated as out-patients (without hospitalisation); it will save costs for the government and patients, he says.

Lack of treatment protocols The insurance industry’s problem with traditional systems of medicine is the absence of standardised treatment protocols. Besides, there looms the fear of false claims for treatments done in hole-in-the-wall places by so-called practitioners. But D B A Narayana, a regulatory expert on traditional medicine, points out that there are as many, if not more, Ayush practitioners than allopathic doctors. And these practitioners come from recognised colleges.

Insurers should cover treatments that have a history of safety and are administered by registered practitioners, he says. If there is a claim on an unsubstantiated treatment, it could be scrutinised further. Batra agrees that traditional medicine practitioners need to start talking the language of modern medicine in terms of being “evidence-based”. That is not to say homoeopaths stop picking up indicators from the patient’s symptoms, but to back it up with diagnostic tools — an X-ray, for example, or blood tests to monitor glucose levels, and so on.

Cover coming? The latest buzz in government corridors is that eight insurance companies have committed to extending cover for alternate systems of medicine at any government or recognised institution that has the necessary accreditation. An announcement is expected early next month.

The other drawback in India is that homoeopathy medicine can be bought only in homoeopathy pharmacies.

But in France (the largest market for homoeopathy even ahead of Germany), Batra says, an allopathic chemist has a homoeopathy division too.

In Britain, leading pharmacies like Boots stock homoeopathic medicines, he says, and the laws are clear on the type of therapeutic claims such products are allowed to make.

Selling via the Internet could fuel the popularity of such medicines, he says. Batra intends to ride the e-commerce wave with a “hybrid” mix of the online world and physical clinics.

Recognising the benefits, private institutions like Medanta have an integrated medicine and holistic therapies department and the new AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) are to offer integrated traditional treatments.

But even as the Government commits this week to setting up an AIIMS-type Ayurveda hospital, the gaping hole to be plugged is health insurance, without which the real value of these initiatives cannot be realised.

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