France will stop reimbursing patients for homeopathic treatment from 2021, the health minister said in an interview published Wednesday, infuriating manufacturers but also disappointing doctors who wanted an immediate halt.
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn, a former prominent doctor who has vowed to place scientific rigour at the heart of policy, said she had made the decision after a damning verdict on homeopathy by the national health authority published in June.
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 Le Parisien newspaper.
She said the transition period would allow both patients and pharmaceutical companies to adapt to the new system.
France’s National Authority for Health (HAS) had at the end of June concluded there was no benefit to alternative medicine, saying homeopathy had “not scientifically demonstrated sufficient effectiveness to justify a reimbursement”.
Buzyn acknowledged 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 the move as “incomprehensible and incoherent”.
It asked for an urgent meeting with President Emmanuel Macron and said it would “do everything to fight” the decision.
After the HAS study was published, manufacturers had urged the government for a moratorium to debate the issue in public.
But Buzyn’s move also failed to satisfy opponents of homeopathy who said they did not understand the need for a 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 any specific effectiveness of homeopathy,” he added.
Official figures from 2018 show social security paid back 126.8 million euros ($142.2 million) for homeopathic treatment out of an overall total of 20 billion euros ($22.4 billion) for medicines that year.
Buzyn, a prominent haematologist and university professor with no previous political experience before joining the government in 2017, has repeatedly insisted on 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 the scientific credibility of the government was on the line.
“We have a strong principle in France—to use treatments that have a proven scientific effect,” she told parliament.
Debate has raged about homeopathy since it first emerged at the end of the 18th century, with critics damning it as no more than pseudoscience.
It is based on the idea that a substance which causes certain symptoms can also help to remove those same symptoms.
France’s policy on homeopathy is being closely followed in Germany where some 7,000 homeopathic doctors are registered.
Karl Lauterbach, an MP specialising in health issues for the centre-left SPD, the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition, has pressed for a law banning refunds for homeopathy.
“Those who want to buy homeopathic medicines will continue to do so but it will not be based on the public health system nor paid for by French taxpayers,” France’s Europe affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin told Europe 1 radio.