We have met the Enemy

It’s not paranoia if they are really out to get you.

Our siege mentality is understandable. Doc Hay was charged with practicing medicine without a license in the early 1900’s, as was Miriam Lee in 1974. In some places we’re still seeking legal recognition of our right to practice. It’s not unusual to read that acupuncture is quackery.

So it’s not terribly surprising when multiple participants in an official government meeting announce that your practice is a danger to the public and that the NCCAOM Acupuncture credential is insufficient. It’s not the first time we’ve heard that it would be better for the public if we were excluded.

But it’s different when the people saying these things are Acupuncturists.

It’s shocking. And upsetting. And bad for the profession.

We complain about PT’s, Medical Acupuncturists, insurance companies and even the perceived disrespect of some of our clients. But those groups aren’t building coalitions to restrict our ability to practice, or to put hurdles in the path of new practitioners. I can imagine the outrage and the calls to action if they did.

Instead, it’s Acupuncturists who are on the record (warning audio autoplay) slandering colleagues and attempting to slow growth of the profession.

Our safety record and our well-established and generally respected educational and credentialing systems don’t seem to matter. Nor are these Acupuncturists concerned about our small numbers or student debt.

Why is this happening? One school that is concerned about student debt, accessibility, and the growth of the profession, asked ACAOM and NCCAOM to reconsider the hourly requirements for acupuncture education and sitting the credentialing exams. There was no move to lower standards (read more here) or change competencies, only to use the same hourly requirements that served our teachers and most experienced practitioners so well.

ACAOM hasn’t responded to the proposal, and NCCAOM did not respond favorably (NCCAOM Response Ltr to POCA Board 11-9-17 Final with signatures.doc). But members of Utah’s Acupuncture Advisory Board and the Utah Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine were so upset by POCA Tech’s request that they launched a preemptive strike, moving to require the NCCAOM herb credential of all practitioners, whether or not they want to use herbs.

Listen, and ask yourself – how does this help our future?

By the way –

The participants’ claim that this is a clarification of existing law is “alternative fact.” The evidence shows that the Utah action is in direct response to the POCA Tech proposal, and the representative of the Department of Professional Licensing makes clear that existing law would not support this action.

In a prior meeting a board member insisted that there is no need to require specific education or curriculum for practitioners who use injection therapy, since acupuncturists know their limits. The same board member argues here that all practitioners need to obtain the herb credential. (The board member performs injection therapy.)

The exemption of those already licensed works to undermine opposition to changes like this. Don’t be fooled – increasing debt for the next generation of practitioners isn’t good for our future, even if it doesn’t impact your ability to practice.

The Advisory Board and the Utah Association, with the help of the NCCAOM, promoted the Board’s proposed changes. The letter (UtahNCCAOMletter) they distributed is inaccurate. For example, a growing number of states are not requiring the herbal exam of all practitioners, and acupuncture and Chinese Medicine have not always been inextricably linked.

A letter written by a professional association, signed by the Chair of the Advisory Board, and distributed and supported by the NCCAOM (which would benefit financially from the change) raises significant ethical and good governance concerns.

The NCCAOM’s message in the February meeting – that they defer to the will of the profession – is a questionable position for a credentialing agency. It also differs from their position in cases where the will of the profession was for changes not in NCCAOM’s interests, such as a state removing the requirement to maintain active Diplomate status.

There’s good news – the Utah Advisory Board can’t add a requirement for the herbal credential via regulation.

There’s bad news – the parties involved seem eager to pursue legislation to make this change.

There’s terrible news – the enemy is us. It isn’t the PT’s, MD’s, or insurance companies undermining Acupuncturists. It’s Acupuncturists.

 

Eight mini-Posts for Eight Nights! First Night – Acupuncturists, Weigh In!

The NCCAOM is looking for feedback on a possible Safe Compounding and Dispensing certificate program. I don’t work with herbs so I’m not considered a stakeholder, but please reply if you are eligible. My questions/concerns —

  1. Will the certificate be available to anyone or just those with an NCCAOM herbal credential? Practitioners often delegate herbal preparation to office staff, so staff might benefit the most from the training. Additionally, some excellent and well-trained practitioners aren’t able to sit the NCCAOM herbal exam due to the nature of their herbal education. Could they still obtain this certificate?
  2. Will this certificate result in restrictions on the practices of those without it? The NCCAOM has previously developed credentials promoted as optional, which have, in short order, become requirements.

There are many areas of practice in where some of us could use more knowledge and training. It’s nice to have a way to show that you’ve got some special training or skills. At the same time, we’ve got enough battles with other professions and within the profession, and too often new credentials lead to new fault lines and new tensions.

Share your thoughts with the NCCAOM if you’re a stakeholder. Let’s help them serve our needs and understand our concerns.

 

 

 

Happy AOM Day??

“Acupuncture is a safe and cost-effective treatment that could benefit so many. If only the medical establishment could see the benefits of what we do.”

That was our mantra decades ago.

So one might think, now that Acupuncture has become accepted and of increasing interest to the establishment, we’d be happy, thriving, and confident.

But that isn’t the prevailing feeling. We love our work and most of us couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And yet AOM Day 2017 finds us fearful and disheartened.

Many of us carry significant debt and are not earning enough to pay it down in a timely fashion. Many of us are limited in where and how we practice due to varying state rules. The hoped for benefits from insurance reimbursement came with significant administrative burden and limits on what will be covered. Increasingly acupuncture is being provided by non-acupuncturists. Meanwhile, the profession isn’t growing. Based on figures from Acupuncture Today, there are fewer LAcs now (24,612) than there were in November 2013 (24,707).

So it is not surprising that we aren’t hopeful. The public and the medical establishment see the value of acupuncture, but we aren’t thriving.

There are things we control that could change our trajectory.

Those of us who completed acupuncture training prior to 1990 (some of our most admired mentors and colleagues) probably got about 1000 hours of formal schooling. If you graduated in 2000 you likely had about 1725 hours of schooling, and if you completed your training after 2011 your program was at least 1905 hours.

You can see, here, how the Virginia regulations have changed over the years. The hourly requirements did not change in response to concerns about practitioner safety or skill, but to keep the regulations compatible with the ACAOM and NCCAOM requirements.

In 1988 tuition at The Traditional Acupuncture Institute (now MUIH) was $11,000 (about $23,000 in today’s dollars). When I started in 1992 it was about $18,540, ($32,616 in today’s dollars). By 2003 tuition had increased to $32,865 ($43,722 in 2017 dollars). And, if I wanted to begin at MUIH today, the program would take almost four years to complete with tuition of $75,924. For a Masters in Oriental Medicine, necessary to practice in Florida, California, and Nevada, I’d pay $99,604.

A student loan of $40,000 at 6.8% interest can be paid off in 10 years at $460/month – considered manageable with an annual salary of about 50K. A $100,000 loan will take over $1150/month and you’d need to make almost 140K/year to manage that.

So it’s not surprising that the profession isn’t growing and that acupuncturists are worried.

Sure, the NCCAOM can embark on a major public education campaign touting our training and credentials.(Well, touting their credential, actually). That’s fine. But with the downward pressure on health care spending in this country, and the impact of debt considerations on professional training, it’s going to take some damn fine PR to make a difference. (Big Pharma & Health Products spent about 245 million on lobbying in 2016.)

A far more direct way to help the profession grow, help future graduates make a living, and make Acupuncturists available to those who want acupuncture would be to address our training. If those who graduated in 1989 were safe with a 1000 hour $18,000 education, why do current students need at least 1905 hours and $75,000? Can we simplify the path and reduce the cost of becoming an Acupuncturist? (Yes, we can!)

If people want acupuncture they will find a way to get it. If we’re not there to provide it, someone else will be. We do have the power to change this, and it won’t take 245 million. In honor of AOM Day 2017, let’s agree that more Acupuncturists and less debt would be a very good thing.

 

 

Professional Harmony, Professional Growth

Acupuncturists know that good health isn’t acquired by attacking invaders. Instead, we advocate living in balance with our environment to develop a strong, self-reliant, vessel. We are healthy when our system excludes threats without our even being aware of them.

As individuals, most of us practice (most of the time) what we preach. We strive for balance.

As a profession, though, we’ve chased the equivalents of miracle cures, mega-antibiotics, and the promises of “experts.” Like our clients who seek well-being that way, we are tired and struggle to maintain our tenuous health.

What if practitioners, schools, organizations, regulators, and credentialing agencies saved the energy and money that went to filing lawsuits against PT’s, (and having to defend ourselves when we are sued in return), establishing new degrees, and changing state regulations to require more training and exams? What if, instead, they identified the minimal standard necessary to practice safely and effectively and committed to work, state by state, to establish that standard as sufficient for licensure? What if we took as a guiding principle and goal that an acupuncture license in one state, and a history of safe practice, should be sufficient for licensure in any state?

Other professions are doing this. PT’s, Nurses, and MD’s are all working to make it easier for practitioners to relocate. Even lawyers can be “waived” into a state based on prior experience. These professionals don’t have to start school wondering whether their degree will be sufficient. A family move doesn’t mean giving up a career.

Acupuncture school is a risky investment, especially when requirements for licensure vary widely and change regularly.

Unlike our other battles, moving toward standardization (of licensure NOT lineage), doesn’t require convincing any judge or insurance company of our position or value. We hold the power to create a system that supports acupuncture professionals and serves the public.

It shouldn’t be difficult. It will be. We are better at vehemently disagreeing and walking away than we are at overcoming differences and finding compromise.

Both herbal credentialing and the FPD degrees were enacted despite concerns we now know were prescient.The ACAOM-sponsored DELPHI process (to establish degree titles), an after-the fact attempt to address some of those concerns, is moving forward, but not without challenges.

We lack an organization for regulators. This increases the tendency for states go their own way, and will make coming together even more difficult. Too often regulators have focused on their personal visions for the profession rather than serving the public. Many of them also sit on the boards of, or work for, acupuncture schools, raising the potential for conflicts of interest.

We could overcome these challenges. We could focus on the benefits and commit to sticking together. We could ensure the public can access Acupuncturists when they want acupuncture. We’ve spent enough on the antibiotics of legal action and the miracle cures of being Doctors and pursuing third-party payment. Now we need to focus on establishing common ground and common requirements, building our strength and our stamina. That would be a huge step toward good health for the profession.

 

 

Growing Opportunities for Acupuncturists

The Acupuncture Observer is still working to bring you the latest news relevant to the profession, despite the summer lull in posts.

BLS Code:  After years of effort, Acupuncturists will have a distinct Standard Occupational Code in the 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook. The announcements have repeated the enthusiastic claims that accompanied the multi-year effort to make it happen —

 “Earning a distinct Standard Occupational Code for Acupuncturists is a milestone moment for the acupuncture and Oriental medicine profession. This event positions acupuncturists for a number of new opportunities,” said Kory Ward-Cook, Ph.D., CAE, chief executive officer of NCCAOM. “The classification of ‘Acupuncturists’ as its own federally-recognized labor category both validates and bolsters the profession and positions the industry for growth.”

Data is good. A unique code will distinguish acupuncture as a profession from acupuncture as a modality, and may make it easier to be included in certain state and federal programs. And yet, as far as I know, the only direct outcome of this accomplishment is that soon there will be a report like this for the profession of Acupuncture. Will the data encourage people to enter the field? Will it justify the cost of an Acupuncture Degree? Will it provide evidence that would support increased reimbursement rates? I’m not so sure. Self-employed folks aren’t included these reports and I’ve been unable to determine whether the category will be based on education, license, or just whatever your employer decides.

Like some of our past accomplishments (student loans for Acupuncture School and insurance coverage for acupuncture) the outcome may be a bit more complicated than expected. I’d love to hear more specifics about what we can expect from those who led the effort.

Delaware: No herbal credential? For years that meant you couldn’t be licensed in Delaware, even if you had no interest in using herbs in your practice. On July 19th Governor Markell signed into law HB 387 creating tiered licensing. The law also limits the use of the term “oriental,” eliminates some requirements for ADS’s, and removes the grandfathering provisions. It’s not the best bill text I’ve ever read, but it’s a wonderful improvement over the previous situation. It’s terrific that the Delaware Board of Medicine supported increasing access to acupuncture.This is one example of a jurisdiction where the BOM has been more welcoming to Acupuncturists than the LAcs serving on the Council.

Nevada: Yes, Nevada is another state where the (independent) Acupuncture Board has seemed intent on keeping practitioners out of the state. That explains why the state that had licensure first has so few practitioners. Now it seems that things may be taking a turn for the better. The Nevada Board of Oriental Medicine has had a change in membership. Fingers crossed that this will be the start of a new era with increased access to Acupuncture (and related therapies) for the people of Nevada.

 

I’ll count Delaware as a solid win — increased opportunities for Acupuncturists and increased access for the public. The change in Nevada should be a change for the better, though time will tell. As for our unique SOC, I’ll be interested to see what that changes.

I still expect to write about the The Acupuncture Observer and Facebook fiasco. In the meantime, please share this post on AOF and with others who might be interested. And please let me know of any acupuncture news. In the meantime, enjoy these last days of summer.

 

 

Act Now – Help the Acupuncture Profession With Sensible Regulation

We have a little more than a week to influence regulations that will impact our profession. The regulatory and legislative process typically includes long periods of incremental movement suddenly replaced by small windows of major activity. One of those windows is open in the District of Columbia, but only until December 26th.

The proposed regulations are especially important because Washington DC is the seat of our Federal Government. If Acupuncturists hope to influence policy at that level we’ll need a strong community of practitioners, the more experienced the better, ready to serve in our governmental agencies.

The good news is that a small group of practitioners worked diligently to move the regulatory activity in a positive direction over the past three years. The bad news is that amidst the positive proposed changes are a few problematic sections. The additional bad news is that we are now late in the process. But maybe not too late. It would be good for the profession and for individual practitioners if we were able to correct those problematic sections. Let’s try.

You can see the text of the new regulations here. Comment by clicking on the blue “Make Comment” box at the bottom of the page (the tab at the top doesn’t seem to work). The comment form will only accept 500 characters, which meant a boatload of editing and three separate comments for me. Feel free to borrow my Three Issues DC2 language for your comments.

In addition, I’ve sent this Dear NCCAOM letter to Mina Larson, (MLarson@thenccaom.org) and Kory Ward-Cook (kwardcook@thenccaom.org) asking for their assistance. Again, the more letters the better. Feel free to use my letter as a template.

Remember, a regulatory change anywhere sets a precedent for changes everywhere. If we want people to get their acupuncture from LAcs, we need to remove obstacles to licensure. Please submit comments and share this post with other’s who would like to weigh in. It doesn’t cost anything except a little bit of time. Imagine what we could do if we took the energy and funds used to battle other professions and focused more on improving our own situation.

I limited my comments to the issues I consider most problematic and easiest to correct.

As I discussed in this post, these regulations will impact us all. Some of our colleagues thought it best to keep these proposed changes from the greater community, and that’s a shame. We need to be in the loop. The more we know, the more we can do to bring about positive change.

 

9 Reasons why Acupuncture Regulations There Matter Here!

Changes in acupuncture regulation in any state matter to each of us individually, and to the profession as a whole.

Here are 9 reasons why —

  • We don’t know what the future holds. Unexpected moves happen.
  • You may need to hire practitioners or sell your practice. Can interested parties easily move to your state?
  • Your patients might move and want a practitioner just like you. Will one be available?
  • Growth in the profession is not keeping up with demand. Regulatory uncertainty diminishes the appeal of the profession.
  • High educational and credentialing costs interfere with business growth. If the requirements vary from state to state, the impact is multiplied. (See this report on Occupational Licensing.)
  • Regulatory differences lead to divisions within the profession. With fewer than 25k acupuncturists in the US unity is critical.
  • What happens in one state impacts every state. States look at what has happened elsewhere when considering regulatory changes.
  • Changes in one state can lead to changes for everyone. When CA increased required educational hours every school and ACAOM soon changed as well.
  • Different regulations, training requirements, and titles make it difficult to educate the public about our qualifications, draw contrasts with other professionals, or advocate for our profession as a whole.

Staying informed is not easy. Neither is getting involved. We are all busy, we don’t always know how to assess the pros and cons of a possible change, and things can get heated and unpleasant when there are differences of opinion.

And, the future of our profession and our businesses is greatly impacted by regulatory changes – even those happening across the country.

Please, stay involved.

Forgive two posts in quick succession, but regulatory changes are on the way. You’ll hear from me again soon.

(Note — I advocate for standardizing and simplifying the regulatory process for acupuncture licensure. I am not advocating for standardizing the medicine itself. Our diversity is powerful indeed.)

Herbal Regulation and the Acupuncture Profession – A Better Way.

We’ve got competition. PT’s, MD’s, and DC’s are excited about filiform needles and LAcs are freaking out.

While our energy has been focused on that competition (our training and skills are superior, right?) we haven’t been paying attention to increasing restrictions on our ability to practice the fullness of our medicine. Adding insult to injury, the restrictions on practice are “coming from inside the house.”

I’m talking about restrictions on our use of herbs.

Yes, herbal medicine is powerful and complex and carries both potential risk and potential benefit. Yes, it takes many thousands of hours to come close to mastery of this branch of our medicine. Yes, people have been harmed by the improper use of herbs and supplements. And, yes, at some point the damage done by the misuse of herbs may result in stricter regulation. We may indeed lose access to more herbs.

It’s good that we want to be proactive, protecting the public and the profession from harm. It’s not so good if our actions don’t have the desired result. And not good at all if our actions increase risk to the public and the profession.

Let’s consider the terrain —

  • What portion of harm from herbs/supplements is the result of poor practice by Acupuncturists?
  • What portion of harm from herbs is from the use of raw herbs, what portion is from pre-made herbal formulas?
  • Does preventing certain LAcs from recommending herbs or supplements limit public access to these products?
  • Is the average LAc, even without herbal training, likely to have a positive or negative impact on client’s proper use of herbs and supplements?
  • Which are better tailored to the individualized treatment that is a hallmark of Chinese Medicine — pre-made/patent formulas or raw herbs?
  • Which are more likely to be contaminated with banned substances or prescription medicine – patent formulas or raw herbs?
  • Is it possible to draw a bright line between dietary therapy and herbal therapy?
  • Does limiting LAc recommendation of herbs interfere with the ability of other health care providers or salespeople to recommend or sell herbs or supplements?

See where I am going with this?

Anyone can get Chinese herbs, even dangerous ones. Increasing the regulatory burden on Acupuncturists would make sense if it would protect the public or our access to the full pharmacopoeia on an ongoing basis. It would make sense if LAcs were routinely endangering the public through unregulated use of herbs.

It doesn’t make sense for a subset of our profession to become the only group of health professionals not able to recommend herbs to their clients.

If the only groups weighing in are the schools and NCCAOM, formal (and expensive) training and credentialing will be increasingly required.

Let’s stand united against unnecessary restrictions. LAcs have an excellent safety record. Stay tuned for real-time developments and your opportunity to weigh in on the regulation of herbal medicine for Acupuncturists.

 

How we Grow – The Acupuncture Profession in 2015

One Physician per 371 non-institutionalized civilians was the US average in 2012.

One Acupuncturist per 20,000 non-institutionalized civilians was the US average in 2014.

NCCAOM’s 2014 Annual Report is an important read for anyone who cares about Acupuncture in the US. From it we learn:

  • Applications for certifications dropped from 1744 in 2013 to 1494 in 2014.
  • The number of new certifications dropped from 1144 in 2013 to 972 in 2014.
  • 532 of those new certifications were in Oriental Medicine. Another 16 were for Chinese Herbology (likely existing LAcs choosing or being required to add the Herb certification).

I don’t know how many practitioners are leaving the profession, but many of my peers who were licensed 20+ years ago are stepping back from active practice.

Several current initiatives, including HR 3849 and state-level efforts to mandate insurance coverage of acupuncture would increase demand for acupuncture. (There are 49,435,610 Medicare beneficiaries in the US and 5.5 million Gulf War Vets.) If fully trained Acupuncturists aren’t able to meet the demand, who will provide those services?

At this rate, how long will it take to grow the profession to even one Acupuncturist per 2000 people?

Shouldn’t we focus on that?

I’m baffled. We’ve sued, signed petitions, and marched in the street, all to try to stop the “greatest threat to our profession” – other professions wanting to use the acupuncture needle.

But there’s been silence, or even approval, when Florida (with one DOM for every 17,760 people) changed their regulations in 2014 to require all 4 NCCAOM exams for licensure. Ditto in NJ where new practitioners will need the NCCAOM herb exam to use herbs in their practice. (How many citizens had been harmed by use of herbs by practitioners without the herbal credential? Was regulation needed?) In Nevada (approximately 1 Acupuncturist for every 47,000 citizens) the Board of Oriental Medicine is moving to require a DAOM of all licensees. Meanwhile, many insurance plans are limiting their provider pool to those with active NCCAOM certification, even in states that don’t require that credential. (After all, the vision of the NCCAOM is that “Acupuncture and Oriental medicine provided by NCCAOM credentialed practitioners [emphasis mine] will be integral to healthcare….”)

If we want the public to obtain services from well-trained Acupuncturists we need to make sure providers are available. One thousand new practitioners a year and growing self-inflicted restrictions on where and how we can practice aren’t going to do it.

The greatest threat to our future is an Acupuncture workforce insufficient to meet demand or effectively advocate for ourselves. Allowing or supporting credential creep, educational bloat, and practice restrictions are sowing the seeds of our demise.

Can we please focus on growing our profession?

 

Demographic Information From:

Acupuncture Today Density Map

Physician Data

Population Data

Medicare Data

Veteran Data

Licensure News

Finally! At the May 6th Delaware Board of Medicine meeting two experienced and NCCAOM-credentialed acupuncturists were granted Delaware licenses, bringing the number of the LAcs in the state to just under forty. This is good news for the people of Delaware. It is also good news for the profession as whole. And hopeful news for the practitioners who are now commuting to Maryland, or not practicing, because they were unable to obtain a Delaware license.

Why did it take action from the MD’s on the BOM to get these practitioners licensed?

These LAcs had appeared before the Acupuncture Advisory Board four times since applying for licensure in late 2012/early 2013. At several of these appearances the Acupuncture Advisory Board members acknowledged the applicants’ excellent qualifications but refused to grant licenses despite having the authority to do so.

For decades one of our “sacred cows” has been that we need our own boards. Then we’ll have the power to control our destiny. Sadly, when given the chance, some of us prefer to control our destiny right down the tubes.

Consider the history of the independent California Acupuncture Board, with its unique accreditation and exam process, and its ongoing problems. Or Nevada, with an independent board, 53 LAcs, a $1000 application fee and $700 per year renewal fee.  If Delaware had an independent board my colleagues would have had to go to the courts to present the argument (made by a public member of the Board of Medicine) that requiring an herbal education and exam for individuals who do not want to use herbs in their practice, in a state in which anyone can sell and recommend herbs, is restraint of trade.

It isn’t the M.D.’s and “the system” that is limiting the growth of our profession these days. It is other acupuncturists. I’ve asked and asked, but I have yet to find anyone who can explain why the Florida (independent) Acupuncture board is increasing the education and testing requirements for licensure. Have patients been harmed? If a change is needed are there options that would be less burdensome for the profession?

I’ll be interested to see the full minutes of the May 6th DE BOM meeting. In a classic conjunction of issues, a practitioner instrumental in drafting the restrictive Delaware law, and a current Acupuncture Board member who had voted against granting licenses to the two qualified acupuncturists, appeared before the BOM to ask them to do something to stop PT’s from doing dry needling.

Did either of these practitioners consider that their previous actions that limit the number of LAcs in Delaware increase the odds that citizens will seek treatment from non-LAcs? Or that our political power is limited by our small numbers? Did the BOM wonder what’s up with this profession — they don’t want anyone to use a needle, even other LAcs?  (FWIW, the BOM doesn’t regulate PT’s.)

You’d think that our own self-interest would prevent the credential and educational creep that costs us so much. But it hasn’t. The AMA Code of Medical Ethics states “A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient.” Restrictive laws and rules that limit access to qualified acupuncturists are contrary to the best interests of patients. Let’s work for change – for the people who need acupuncture and the qualified individuals who want to provide acupuncture. Credential creep hurts us all.