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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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad