Unscientific ‘healers’ enjoy rude Swiss health

Denis Vipret moves around the circle of 20 people waiting for his healing touch, touching their shoulders and pumping his right hand lightly to transfer its energy to each patient.

Unscientific 'healers' enjoy rude Swiss health
Healer Denis Vipret works with a patient. Photo: Boris Heger/AFP/File

Vipret is a star among a soaring number of healers in Switzerland, and during his lightning visit to Geneva he expects to treat some 300 people eager to experience the "magic" in his hands.
"With my left hand I detect what is wrong and with my right hand I heal," 
says Vipret, a heavyset man wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and clogs.
Switzerland may be home to some of the world's largest pharmaceutical 
companies, but it is also proving fertile ground for traditional medicine healers like Vipret, who have been seeing booming business in recent years.
Once shunned as witches, hypnotists, bonesetters, magnetists and herbalists 
are surfing on the swelling organic wave, experts say, and have gained such acceptance that many Swiss hospitals have even begun referring patients to them.
"We are seeing that more and more people are turning to healers," says 
ethnologist Magali Jenny, who has written two best-sellers on the subject since 2008.
"There is no other place, in Europe at least, where this subject is as 
accepted," she tells AFP.
Annie Marie Girard, a 55-year-old French magnetist based in Geneva — a 
canton that recognises "spiritual healing" — agrees.
"In France, if a healer does not succeed at healing a patient immediately, 
you are automatically taken to court," she says, explaining why she has settled in Switzerland.
According to Jenny, more than 500 largely unschooled healers are active in 
the French-speaking part of Switzerland alone, which counts just about a quarter of the country's eight million people.
The art of healing is more widely practised in the French- and 
Italian-speaking parts of the Swiss linguistic patchwork than in the Germanic parts of the country, where people prefer to seek certified doctors, experts say.
Healers also make a better living in Catholic regions of Switzerland, like 
Jura in the north, Fribourg in the west, Valais in the south and Appenzell in the northeast and central Switzerland, according to the interior ministry's cultural office.
"Many people feel a bit left out of the dehumanising medical establishment, 
where they feel reduced to numbers. They prefer to turn to healers and more natural methods, since we are in the midst of this green, organic trend," Jenny says.
Healers are so popular in Switzerland that around 70 of them have asked 
Jenny to remove their names from her books, claiming they could not keep up with the demand they had generated.
Back in Geneva, people have come from far and wide to see Vipret, who 
charges patients 50 francs ($53) per visit.
When AFP visited, he spent less than a minute diagnosing each patient.

"I see everything: cancer, tumours, AIDS, leukaemia, iron deficiencies," he 
Vipret, who is unschooled and whose form of healing does not fall into any 
official category, insists he can protect each patient against pretty much everything for the next 30 days through the power of thought alone.
His patients express wonder at his powers and the heat of his hands.

"He is really impressive," marvels 30-year-old Bertrand Bucher who had 
brought his pregnant wife to Vipret for a check-up.
Claire, a 70-year-old retired pharmacist who does not want to give her last 
name, says that Vipret "knows nothing about anatomy," yet she sees him regularly, convinced that he can cure her ills.
Many Swiss hospitals meanwhile not only refer patients to healers; patients 
and their families can request that a particular healer be brought in to help.
"In emergency rooms, that happens a lot," especially for burn victims or 
people with bleeding injuries," Fribourg hospital spokeswoman Jeannette Portmann tells AFP.
A number of cantons have officially recognised healing as "a living 
tradition," and both national and regional medical societies voice little scepticism about the practice.
The recent hype around the profession has meanwhile also drawn its share of 
quacks to the profession, experts caution, and insurers are pushing for some sort of certification requirement.
Even before the media focus, the profession was not free from charlatans.

Last month, for instance, a self-proclaimed healer in Bern was sentenced to 
nearly 13 years behind bars for having injected 16 of his patients with HIV-tainted blood.

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What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What isn't covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?


Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?


Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

READ MORE: Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.