Alternative ‘cures’ are just empathy


Even as states and insurance companies try to figure out whether the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will force them to fund disproven and discredited “alternative” medical services, a new study shows that such funding would be wasted. There’s nothing to “complementary” medicine other than a sympathetic ear.

“Psychotherapy, voodoo, and complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) are all cut from the same cloth; they are ‘healing methods’ that relieve symptoms because they provide two key things: empathy and the placebo effect (E&P),” reports Discovery magazine. “That’s according to Belgian physicians Mommaerts and Devroey in a new paper: From ‘Does it work?’ to ‘What is it?’ They say that, given that E&P are a powerful psychological force, it makes little sense to ask of any particular CAM, ‘Does it work?’ So long as it provides non-specific E&P, just about any intervention will work.”

And surely there must be cheaper ways to provide a little empathy to patients.

Still, the paper shows that alternative medicines “represent a failure” of traditional, scientific medical practice. That’s because many patients really only need some empathy, and they’re not getting it at their doctors’ offices.

The reason this matters is that according to Obamacare, “licensed” health care providers can’t be discriminated against. And since most states license practitioners of acupuncture and other forms of “holistic” healing, they’re entitled to Obamacare dollars.

Even though science says they don’t work.

Taxpayers already fund the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to the tune of $130 million per year. Footing the bill for alternative treatments — we won’t say cures — will send that figure skyrocketing.

And depending on the state, insurance companies and taxpayers will be on the hook for all kinds of quackery.

“California legislators say acupuncture makes the cut,” the Washington Post explains. “Michigan regulators would include chiropractic services. Oregon officials would leave both of those benefits on the cutting-room floor.”

Many readers will have used acupuncturists and chiropractors, to great benefit. But before we become mired in what works and what doesn’t, lets agree on the scientific method.

There’s a difference between “it works for me” and “it works.” That’s an important difference. “It works for me” isn’t evidence, it’s anecdote. “It works” is a claim that science can test.

Of course complementary medicine can work for you or for me; old wives tales work, too, and not just for old wives. But that’s the placebo effect the Belgian physicians were talking about. Things often work because we believe they work.

Human beings can be illogical and even irrational, particularly when our health is concerned. Steve Jobs famously put off science-based treatment for his cancer in favor of acupuncture, juices and dietary regimens. Doctors say his form of cancer was curable — if treated in time. He died in 2011.

Of course, adults in a free market should be free to purchase whatever services they wish from alternative and complementary practitioners.

But the rest of us shouldn’t be forced to subsidize quackery.