Tubes of homeopathic granules at a Boiron laboratory in Brest, Western France. Picture: AFP/FRED TANNEAU
Tubes of homeopathic granules at a Boiron laboratory in Brest, Western France. Picture: AFP/FRED TANNEAU

Paris — France will stop funding the homeopathic pills and tinctures made by Boiron and rivals at the start of 2021, following the advice of a health panel that spent months reviewing the medicines.

Boiron CEO Valérie Poinsot has said that sales of reimbursed treatments could plummet by 50% in France, where the company brings in almost half its revenue, and at least 1,000 jobs hang in the balance.

The Lyon-based company, which competes with Switzerland’s Weleda and others in the market for homeopathic remedies, has seen its stock price lose about 20% in the past two months amid apprehension over the government’s decision. It dropped as much as 3.9% in Paris trading on Wednesday.

Boiron’s products have long co-existed with conventional care in France, prescribed by regular doctors and dispensed in almost every pharmacy. The treatments are also widely available elsewhere in Europe, though the tide is turning against them in some other markets, too. The UK’s National Health Service advised doctors to stop prescribing such remedies in 2017, saying they are “at best, a placebo.”

Though some mainstream medical authorities go further, referring to homeopathy as quackery, Boiron says studies in patients treated for muscle and bone pain, anxiety and respiratory infections had outcomes similar to those consuming more costly conventional remedies such as antibiotics, antidepressants and painkillers.

Alternative medicine

The company called the French decision “incomprehensible” in a context where the World Health Organisation is encouraging the integration of alternative medicines into health care. Boiron said it wants its executives to meet President Emmanuel Macron.

The treatments will remain affordable enough that most French people, long accustomed to homeopathy, will likely continue to use them, health minister Agnès Buzyn said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper.

For now, French people can walk into any pharmacy and buy a tube of Arnica Montana granules — recommended for shocks and bruises — or roughly a thousand other such remedies for €1.6 with a prescription, because the state health system shoulders about 30% of its cost. In some cases, private insurers cover the remainder and patients pay nothing.

Next year, the state health system will reimburse 15% of that cost to allow “a transition period”, Buzyn told Le Parisien. At the start of 2021, the reimbursement will end.