Acupuncture Licensing and Regulation – The Future

Imagine that your acupuncture license meant you could easily practice in every state.

Imagine that licensure exams focused on the skills and knowledge needed to practice safely.

Imagine that acupuncture schools used the time spent teaching things “you won’t need in practice but they’ll be on the exam” to teach things that you really will need in practice, including all that business stuff.

Imagine that acupuncture boards, associations, and organizations worked to make it easier and less expensive for practitioners to obtain and maintain licenses and practice within their skill set.

I wish I could say “it’s easy if you try” – but for most of us it isn’t. (Unless you look to other professions.)

The Florida Acupuncture Board now requires all new practitioners to spend thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on additional education and testing to become Board-certified in herbs. Even though there was no evidence of public harm under the previous rules, and even for those who won’t use herbs in practice.

The Nevada Board is trying to change the regulations to require a DOM or DAOM of all applicants (about 40K on top of an 80K MAOM). Not because there is evidence of public harm, but because that’s the way it is in China. And never mind that the entire state is served by fewer than 50 acupuncturists.

In July 2015 the White House released Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers. While acknowledging that licensing can provide health and safety protections to consumers and benefits to workers, it concludes,

“State legislators and policymakers should adopt institutional reforms that promote a more careful and individualized approach to occupational regulation that takes into account its costs and benefits, and harmonizes requirements across States. If they are successful, the collective effect of their efforts could be substantial: making it easier for qualified workers to find jobs and move where they choose, increasing access to essential goods and services, and lessening heavy burdens on certain populations….”

Acupuncturists are the policymakers in our profession. Wouldn’t it be great to determine what’s truly needed for public safety and to adjust educational and licensing requirements accordingly? Rather than blaming others for our difficulties, wouldn’t it be more productive to direct our energy to changing the things we can control? We can demand that the insurance companies pay us more because our education cost so much, or we can make our education less costly. We can sue the PT Boards to try and protect our turf, or we can make sure that anyone who wants acupuncture is able to access convenient and affordable services from an acupuncturist.

I’ll be sharing actions you can take to change our practice environment for the better. Like the Acupuncture Regulation US page on Facebook and stay tuned in here, at The Acupuncture Observer, for updates.

 

 

 

NCCAOM Code of Ethics & Grounds for Professional Discipline, Part II

The NCCAOM’s call for comments on the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline ends September 12, 2015 .We owe it to ourselves and our profession to share our thoughts with them.

Here’s what I’ll tell them —

Dear NCCAOM,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline. My significant concerns with these documents can be traced to three overarching issues —

  1. The NCCAOM credential is required to maintain state licensure for many acupuncturists. You advocate for this arrangement. Yet the current Code of Ethics is more suitable for a voluntary exceptional standard adopted by choice.
  2. States that require NCCAOM credentials have their own regulatory boards, ethical codes, and disciplinary process. The NCCAOM Grounds for Professional Discipline empowers you to pull a practitioner’s credential, removing them from practice, even when a state board would allow continued practice for the same violation. This turns the NCCAOM into de facto regulators and creates double jeopardy for practitioners.
  3. The NCCAOM reserves the right to take disciplinary action against any practitioner who violates the Code of Ethics. The Code covers behaviors ranging from serious threats to the public safety to those in the realm of Public Relations. The NCCAOM should explicitly limit the use of disciplinary action to violations that risk the public safety.

A few specific examples —

  • “Exceeding the scope of practice as defined by law or certification” is grounds for discipline. Scope is defined by the state, and may not be accurately determined by written language in code or regulation. Since state regulatory boards ultimately rule on whether or not a procedure is within scope, and since that board would determine proper discipline for any violation, no action from the NCCAOM is needed. References to scope should be removed from the NCCAOM document.
  • “I will continue to work to promote the highest standards of the profession” is listed in the Code. Must practitioners promote the FPD or DAOM, the addition of herbal exams to licensure requirements, and the expansion of the NCCAOM credential requirement to all states? Who determines the highest standard? This language is coercive at best.
  • The Code of Ethics requires credential holders to report peers who violate the Code. It is untenable to expect Diplomates to report every peer in violation of any aspect of this far-reaching code, and it is unfair to wield the power to hold us responsible for any failure to do so.

I support rigorous professional ethics and respect the NCCAOM’s intent to establish high standards for the benefit of our patients and our profession. However, your role for the profession is to validate entry-level competency. Much of the current Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline goes far beyond this role. Continued overreach into areas best left to regulators and voluntary affiliations puts at risk the NCCAOM’s position as a credentialing organization.

Thank you for your consideration of these comments,

Elaine Wolf Komarow, L.Ac, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)

Those of you who would like more background on the role of the NCCAOM in our profession should look at Part I of this post.  I encourage those who are interested in another viewpoint of the NCCAOM and its impact on the profession to review these comments and consider signing this petition.

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Nevada, What’s the Deal?

A regulatory board working against the best interests of the public and the profession  — it’s tragic, and it happens too often.

It has never been easy to become an acupuncturist in Nevada. Despite having the country’s first licensing law, passed in 1973, there are only about 50 individuals now practicing in Nevada, the 7th largest state.

It’s not only the $1,000.00 application fee, or the $1,000.00 practical exam fee. In the 2001 the press explored how Nevada’s unique rules caused problems for the profession.  The regulations may have changed, but similar issues remain.

Given the excellent safety record of practitioners licensed in states with less stringent educational requirements and via the widely accepted NCCAOM credential, it’s long overdue for the Nevada Board of Oriental Medicine to change their regulations, making it possible for the citizens of Nevada to get access to the safe and effective acupuncture and Oriental Medicine services that are available in so many other states.

The board is moving to update the regulations. To make it harder, not easier, to get a Nevada license. Not in response to harm to the public, not to bring the process in line with other states, but, because “the degree of MSAOM is odd and absurd.” Look for the “Justifications to amend,” on page 18 in this set of Nevada workshopdocs. You’ll shake your head.

The workshop docs show two sets of proposed revisions. The set dated June 16, 2014, was proposed by a previous Board, has made its way through the regulatory process, and could quickly be officially adopted after two more public meetings. However, the newly appointed Board members have decided not to act on those regulations, and have proposed new revisions. The lawyer in the Attorney General’s office isn’t quite sure what will happen now — it seems that “our” Board is unique in introducing a new set of revisions at this point in the process. (See ** below for more info on the Nevada Regulatory Process.)

The Nevada 2014 proposed regulations would have been somewhat problematic. The Nevada 2015 proposed regs would be a disaster. The reasonable aspects of the 2014 proposed regs are discarded and more restrictive provisions are introduced. The “grandfathering” provision, specifically excluding CEU’s from the 3000 hour requirement, takes away the one avenue for licensure available to most experienced practitioners. The insistence on a DOM or DAOM for all graduates after November 2017 is a significant financial burden for practitioners.

The proposed changes would slow access to and increase the expense of acupuncture in Nevada. They won’t help the schools meet those new gainful employment figures. The proposal dismisses the attempt (for better or worse) to defer to ACAOM for school accreditation, instead establishing an expensive and closely held accreditation process. A change which would allow applicants to sit the practical exam (offered only twice yearly) while their training and background is being vetted is discarded. The regs allow for an increase to $1,000.00 to the license renewal fee, rather than $500.00, and deletes a section on professional ethics from the current regulations. It’s hard to imagine that such awful regulations were written by our colleagues, not acupuncture-hating skeptics. Amazingly, the President of the Board certifies that, “having made a concerted effort” to determine the impact of these regulations on small businesses, there is none.  (See the workshop docs.)

My suggestions on what the profession could and should do in response to these regulations will come soon in a separate post. In the meantime, review the documents and consider how the changes would impact the profession Even those of us who don’t know a soul in Nevada and expect that we’d never practice there will see problems. At the moment, the LCB has not put these proposed revisions on the agenda.  Stay tuned.

 

** Nevada regulatory process —  the Legislature meets only every other year, for 120 days. Nevada law establishes a Legislative Commission, made up of 6 legislators from each house, that can approve regulations when the legislature is not in session. See more here, (generalize since this was written for a particular commission). Regulatory changes do not need to be approved by either the governor or the full legislature.

 

17 Foundational Beliefs of The Acupuncture Observer

Embracing the season of gratitude and thanks, it’s time for The Acupuncture Observer to take a step back and share some of her foundational beliefs about the medicine, the profession, and life.

  1. Acupuncture/OM works. The unique situation of the patient and the unique skills of the provider influence effectiveness. No single tradition provides all of the answers or benefits.
  2. Acupuncture/OM has fewer negative side effects and risks than conventional treatment for many conditions.
  3. Access is a necessary precursor to effective treatment.
  4. Effective treatment will increase wellbeing and could decrease health care costs.
  5. Every means to increase access carries trade-offs. Those trade-offs must be understood as we determine our path forward. We should learn from the experiences of other professions.
  6. Understanding and explaining the mechanism of acupuncture from the knowledge base of modern biology and physiology is useful and interesting, but is not necessary for acceptance by the medical establishment.
  7. The current “science-based” understanding of health is known to be limited. Insisting that Acupuncture/OM be taught, thought of, or explored only in the language of modern medicine/science is unscientific and risks centuries of experience and wisdom.
  8. Consumers should have significant freedom of choice in health care. Understandable and clear information about potential benefits and risks, as well as an exploration of the costs (financial and otherwise) is necessary for good decision-making.
  9. Self-serving thinking leads to hypocrisy. Special attention is needed when an argument for patient protection creates an economic benefit for particular providers.
  10. Simple, easily learned treatments can be effective and safe.
  11. There is the potential for growth and success within the acupuncture/OM profession.
  12. Many acupuncture programs do not provide sufficient or accurate information about post-graduation life and do a poor job of teaching business skills. This can be changed easily and inexpensively.
  13. The financial and karmic ROI (Return on Investment) of positively promoting our profession is superior to that of engaging in political/regulatory battles with others.
  14. The future of the medicine and of the profession are interconnected but not identical.
  15. Thoughtful and respectful analysis can identify areas of common ground.
  16. Focusing on areas of common ground decreases factionalism, and builds unity, understanding, and participation.
  17. The profession lacks venues for respectful dialogue on these issues. As a result, many scholars and potential leaders within the profession avoid involvement.

Do we agree on some of these? Can respectful dialogue increase the areas of agreement? What if we read the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, and The Art of War first? What if we go deeper than our Wei level response to some of these issues? I believe it is possible that we’ll be able to find a new path forward, one we can walk together, with our hair flowing free. After all, I’m an acupuncturist.

Gainful Employment and Strategic Errors

The Gainful Employment final regulations have been announced. Forgive my commenting prior to a complete and thorough analysis of the 941 page document. (You can see some analysis here.) The gist is that for-profit schools (which includes half of US acupuncture programs) will soon have to show that graduates’ student loan payments are manageable with the profession’s available employment (not taking IBR into account). If they can’t, federally guaranteed student loans will no longer be available.

Why should taxpayers continue to provide loans for educations that history shows aren’t worth the investment? Imagine tuition rates and post-graduate employment assistance if the schools provided and guaranteed loans, and took the hit if they weren’t paid back in a timely fashion.

It is no surprise that for-profit schools are displeased about the impending end of the gravy train. Many for-profit schools, and their related organizations, did everything they could to block the regulations. And, just under the wire, the acu-educational establishment contributed comments (see ACAOM gainful employment word).

(The more expensive FPD, and pressure away from “acupuncture-only” degrees now carry a significant downside for the schools.)

Did ACAOM think their letter might exempt them from the rules or impact the final regulations? It seems unlikely that this little community would shift the tide. It was an unforced error for ACAOM to write a letter that reveals such little concern for graduates and such a strong desire to dodge responsibility. (Some of the more significant issues in ACAOM’s letter are discussed here.)

But our own strategic errors have allowed ACAOM and other other alphabets to disregard our well-being.

The petition that asked the alphabets to stop denying their role in our circumstances received 227 signatures. Petitions to stop dry needling often receive thousands of signatures. Which is more likely to limit professional success — a school that leaves students with extensive debt, poor business skills, and no job placement or alumni support, or a little competition? If we can’t survive the competition from those “untrained” professionals our education is surely lacking.

The Feds and the taxpayers pay a price when schools sell an education for far more than it is worth. We graduates pay a far more personal price. It’s too late for us, but at least the Feds are willing to look out for the interests of those who will follow in our footsteps.

What’s your Acupuncture Degree Worth?

Answer: Less than it used to be.

(Please, sign the petition.)

If you earned an MAc and Dipl. Ac (NCCAOM) twenty years ago, you thought you had it made. You could get a license in almost all states with licensure. The schools and the NCCAOM touted the caliber of the education and credentials. You knew you had plenty to learn about this medicine, but you could practice safely.

In the gainful employment letter ACAOM points to the (supposed) earnings of those long-ago grads to minimize the financial struggles of recent grads.

But in 1995 the NCCAOM added the Herbal exam, and later the OM. Some states now require those additional credentials of all practitioners. ACAOM has increased hourly requirements for school accreditation several times. And the NCCAOM has put additional limits on who can take their exams.

Some of our most esteemed teachers do not meet the current requirements for sitting the exams. Many practitioners are trapped, unable to relocate.

By increasing the range of degrees and credentials available before our “brand” was established and our profession was strong, the alphabets increased division and confusion. No wonder the public can’t figure out how an LAc’s education compares to that of other providers.

And here comes the First Professional Doctorate. With this new degree, my alma mater announces,

“[graduates] will be recognized as doctors, both professionally and publicly, and will have increased credibility and standing.”

If graduates with an FPD have increased credibility and standing, what has happened to the credibility and standing of graduates of Masters programs?

According to ACAOM’s gainful employment letter, licensure requirements just happen, and practice success is a simple matter of practitioner choice.

Really, though, the “alphabets” have played a significant role in the expansion of requirements and credential creep, and most of the schools do little to teach students how to make wise business choices.

If, as ACAOM wrote, the graduates of twenty years ago do so well, why have entry level requirements been increased so much? Why are grads struggling to pay off existing loans encouraged to return to school to maintain their credibility? Will the NCCAOM require an FPD to sit their exams? Will the alphabets encourage states to require it for licensure?

ACAOM/NCCAOM/CCAOM/AAAOM — if you represent us, defend the value of our degrees and credentials. Your “options” too often become a requirements.

Colleagues, did the gainful employment letter represent your views? If not, sign the petition. 129 people have, which means ACAOM etc. can still claim to represent 32,871 of us.

For additional information and analysis about educational costs and value, check out this from The New York Times and two posts from Dr. Phil Garrison

 

 

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.

Assistance for the Working Acupuncturist

I went down the Facebook rabbit-hole, and while I was there I learned a few things.

For instance, “just a quick look” and “I’ll just scan my notifications” can quickly lead to a month without a blog post. I will not let that happen again.

Also, based on posts about HIPAA, insurance billing, choosing office space, maintaining records, etc., we have  a lot of questions and we are looking for answers. It’s great that we’ve got communities of colleagues to ask. It is also inefficient, and sometimes downright dangerous that our colleagues are often the only source of answers.

Looking at HIPAA and ADA for example, we see that some professions (but not acupuncturists) have access to lots of resources from their national associations.

  • a search of the AAAOM site gets one, not very useful hit, regarding HIPAA-related responsibilities.
  • Here’s information from the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) site on HIPAA.
  • Here are the search results for HIPAA over at the American Chiropractic Association.
  • I can find no information on the AAAOM site about acupuncture offices and ADA compliance.
  • APTA provides these useful links about ADA compliance.
  • The American Psychological Association has great information about ADA compliance.

While acupuncture organizations are working on national legislation, increasing insurance coverage for acupuncture, adding an entry level degree, and fighting with other professions to limit the use of the acupuncture needle, we search for authoritative assistance on current practice issues in vain. (Luckily, the links above are pertinent to our practices.)

To make matters worse, sometimes it seems that we prefer ignorance. In my time on Facebook I was reprimanded for self-promotion when I shared useful links to this blog, and I was threatened with banishment from Acupuncturists on Facebook because I “acted like [I] know it all.” (I don’t know it all. I do know a few things.)

When many of us don’t understand or comply with our obligations under the ADA and HIPAA, are we ready to be a part of the Medicare system or have acupuncture be an EHB? Isn’t accurate information about ADA compliance an important part of our stated goal of having acupuncture accessible to all? It’s past time for our schools and organizations to make sure we have the skills, knowledge, resources and information to be successful practitioners now. The FPD, Medicare inclusion, higher standards, and expanding our scope/suing our competitors should wait.

Petitions, Medicare, and Licensure

Notable news items in the acu-world this week:

1)  We finally got a response to the petition to the White House to add acupuncturists to the list of Medicare providers. My regular readers already knew that a petition to the White House is not going to create the legislative and administrative changes that would be required.  (Newbies, you can use the tag cloud to find previous posts on the petition and Medicare.)  The response has (no surprise) created the usual teeth-gnashing, with acupuncturists (who seem not to have read the response) lamenting that Obama doesn’t like acupuncture, that it’s all about money and power, that we’re doomed,…. The conversation also shows that even among those most strongly advocating for becoming part of the system, there is still significant ignorance about what would be needed to succeed and the consequences for the profession of “success”.  Also not surprising — no response from the AAAOM or NCCAOM who helped distribute the petition — even though they should have known enough to predict the response and had a year to prepare.

2)  The latest Acupuncture Today newsletter included an article on the six states in “licensure limbo.”  I suspect that overzealous regulation on our part (for example, Delaware and Florida requiring extensive herbal credential requirements for acupuncture licensure) contributes to the lack of enthusiasm for a practice act among practitioners.  I also believe that the acupuncture community’s aggressive and disrespectful response to PT Dry Needling and to MD’s and DC’s who do acupuncture is a significant factor in the unwillingness of those communities to support a practice act in those states.  Actions have consequences.

3)  A new “threat” on the horizon — some LAcs on Facebook are up in arms about Tattoo artists who are doing “dry tattooing” for skin rejuvenation.  You know the drill — how dare they, we have so much training, we need to gather the troops to fend off this encroachment. My points — tattoo artists can use needles, they can do cosmetic work (tattooing eyebrows for people with alopecia and tattooing nipples for people who have had breast reconstruction, for example) and they could tattoo someone’s face completely blue if the client wanted it.  Facial rejuvenation acupuncture is typically not taught in acupuncture school. Is there any reason (other than arrogant self-importance) why we believe we should have control over this technique?

I’m still adjusting to the addition of Facebook into my life. I haven’t figured out how to stay informed and involved there without taking the energy and the dialogue away from The Acupuncture Observer.  For those of you on Facebook, like the Observer page and you’ll get breaking news updates between blog posts.

Also, for those of you interested in learning more about navigating the political/regulatory system I’ll be doing a breakout session at POCAfest,  on March 15th in Tucson.  I’d also be happy to come to your state association meeting, conference, or other event. Knowledge is power.

2013 Review for Acupuncture Professionals

As 2013 was dawning, the WhiteHouse.gov petition to include acupuncture in Medicare was circulated by the AAAOM, NCCAOM, and loads of school and practitioners. Because coverage is not determined by the executive branch, over 30,000 signatures made no difference. That our professional organizations either didn’t know enough or didn’t care enough to educate acupuncturists about how the system works did give me the final push to create The Acupuncture Observer. From the first post last January through # 49 today, I’ve tried to provide thought-provoking strategic analysis of where we are and where we are headed.

The planned March AAAOM conference on a cruise ship didn’t set sail, making 2013 the second consecutive year without a conference. Things began looking up with April’s announcement that experienced professional Denise Graham was named AAAOM Executive Director.

However, by mid December, Ms. Graham and three Board members had resigned. (Previous ED, Christian Ellis, managed only three months in the fall of 2010.) A majority of the current board members have been appointed rather than elected. Something at the AAAOM smells. The Whistleblower Protection Policy, prepared in conjunction with the Confidentiality Policy adopted in April 2012, never resurfaced after it was pulled by then President Michael Jabbour (who is now managing the “operational transition”). We’ll probably never learn what is really going on in the board room, but 2013 marks the year I gave up hope that the AAAOM could become a viable organization serving the profession. It’s now become a single-interest (Federal legislation) organization, under the control of a small number of people, and without the resources to accomplish its priorities.

Throughout 2013 qualified LAcs were denied licensure by the Delaware Acupuncture Advisory Council’s insistence on the NCCAOM OM credential. New Florida regulations will limit licensure to those with NCCAOM Herb credentials beginning in October 2014, putting another state off limits to many practitioners and greatly increasing educational costs and the regulatory burden for those who intend to practice in those jurisdictions.

Outrage at  P.T. Dry Needling continued throughout the year. Some LAcs made arguments that reflect poorly on our concern for the public, such as suggesting we’d drop our objections if PT’s agree to use hypodermic needles for this technique. Various state associations began efforts to redefine acupuncture and to push for discriminatory insurance policies in response to dry needling and the end of 2013 brought newcomer NCASI (and their lawsuit against Kinetacore) onto the scene.

Late Summer brought proposed policy changes from the NCCAOM that would move the group several steps closer to becoming a regulating rather than credentialing body. In a bit of good news, comments from the profession sent the proposals back to the drawing board.

Over the course of the year growing numbers of practitioners added insurance billing to their practices.  We’ve been quick to throw stones at the billing practices (or rumored practices) of PT’s, yet many acupuncturists offer justifications for questionable practices and few seem clear on the exact nature of their agreements with the insurance companies.

In the waning days of 2013 a job opening for a Licensed Acupuncturist at Brooke Army Medical Center was posted on Facebook. Initial responses cast an interesting light on our profession’s self-regard. There were complaints that the salary (about 70k) was too low, some suggested that a PT would certainly get the job, and others complained about the requirement for a flu shot.

In a few days I’ll be back and begin looking forward. What will serve us in the year of the Wood Horse? When the dragon brings the energy of the spring back to earth, how should the seeds of the profession grow?