A Feature or a Bug?

Quote

When a trusted business or organization screws up, it’s good to give them the benefit of the doubt. We all make mistakes.

I have trusted the NCCAOM. They were important to our acceptance as a legitimate profession. In 2014 I encouraged people to support a transition to their exams in California, hopeful that one national standard of entry would further the growth of the profession.

But I’ve noticed a pattern – the NCCAOM makes a big announcement and seems unprepared for the response. They scramble to address the upset, explaining why we don’t understand their good intentions or their difficult position.

I used to think it was a bug. They just weren’t as competent as I’d thought. And Acupuncturists mostly don’t understand their role and are quick to react.

But now I think it’s a feature.

We don’t understand their role because they talk out of both sides of their mouth – they say or do contradictory things depending on their immediate desire.

In the “NCCAOM Questions and Clarifications” document (released in draft format), their response to the reaction to the changes in testing policies, the NCCAOM writes:

“There are some policies where we may ask our stakeholders’ opinions and use that to determine policy.  There are many other policies where this is not appropriate because of the requirements of our accrediting body, fiduciary responsibilities (the fiscal health of NCCAOM), or impacts to public safety need to drive our policy decisions.  NCCAOM is not a membership organization, it is a credentialing organization. Examples of this include: the elimination of the apprenticeship-only route, elimination of the pre-graduation route, and the revisions to the NCCAOM® Code of Ethics and the Grounds for Professional Discipline. These are examples that our policies are driven by our NCCA accreditation standards.”

But the NCCAOM did ask for input on the Code of Ethics and Professional Discipline, and their revised code reflected that input.

And the NCCAOM did step back from some of their announced changes in response to concerns from stakeholders. Clearly they had some flexibility, and could have done this prior to their announcement.

And in 2016 the NCCAOM shared –  “Breaking News! New Membership Organization Announcement!” describing their “Academy of Diplomates.” The Academy Board is a subset of the NCCAOM Board, your NCCAOM recertification fees support this organization, and links on the Academy website take you back to the NCCAOM. No wonder we’re confused.

In “Questions and Clarifications” we read – “It is no secret that the number of students taking the exams, annually, has dropped dramatically over the past decade.” Their upbeat NCCAOM Spring 2018 newsletter doesn’t mention it, nor has it been a topic in their frequent Acupuncture Today articles. Study their annual reports and you can uncover the truth, but that isn’t the news they’ve been sharing.

Fewer people taking the tests means fewer new practitioners. Shouldn’t the profession give scrupulous consideration to any policy or regulatory changes that make it harder to enter the field?

The NCCAOM’s current honesty regarding their financial concerns is appreciated. It also demands that we reconsider their previous denials that money drives their policy positions. Their support of efforts to require the herb exam of all practitioners (UtahNCCAOMletter), and their complicated PDA system, make sense from a financial perspective, not from a safety one.

The NCCAOM denies that their exams shape our education. They say schools should not teach to the test. They also advertise, “It is recommended that ACAOM Approved Schools Faculty members sign up for [the NCCAOM] practice tests to familiarize themselves with the process.”

They dismiss concerns that a new voluntary certificate program could become mandatory. They simultaneously support efforts to make the voluntary herb testing mandatory.

Underneath it all is the refrain, the “NCCAOM’s number one priority and mission is to protect the public.” This is as it should be. But one insurer recently reported receiving 1-3 reports of harm per week, including reports of pneumothorax, burns, and infections. In a profession of, at best, 30,000 practitioners, shared between multiple insurers, that’s alarming. Is there evidence that patients in Maryland or West Virginia, where there is no NCCAOM testing requirement, are more likely to suffer harm?

With great power comes great responsibility. The NCCAOM denies their power and their responsibility, but they are the gatekeeper to the profession. They have us by the short hairs. Their denials aren’t believable.

I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt for years. I’ve explained away their errors as bugs and defended their good intentions. It’s painful to acknowledge that I no longer trust the NCCAOM.

They need to get a lot more honest and a lot more competent quickly, or we need to get serious about finding an alternative.

 

 

 

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.

 

Fourth Night – Service

Join your state acupuncture association.

At least once in your professional life, serve on the Board of that association, or, serve on the Board of another professional group, or serve on a committee that serves the profession, or serve in a regulatory position.

If you support other groups, like AWB, SAR, POCA, join them too. But not instead.

Join your state association even if you are thinking “but they haven’t done anything that I agree with” or “they don’t do anything at all” or “they are a bunch of a-holes who actively work against my interests” or, “I already support these other organizations that actually do the stuff I care about.”

Trust me, when I get a newsletter telling me that a top priority for my state association is continuing the fight against dry needling, I struggle to write that membership check. (Because the fight has sucked up our resources and poisoned relations with potential allies and there is no chance we’ll win.)

Why give your hard-earned and too often insufficient money to a group that you believe uses it poorly?

  1. Membership organizations are designed to represent the needs and desires of their membership. To think “I’ll join when they stop doing stupid stuff I hate” is asking them to put the preferences of non-members over members, and that’s unreasonable.
  2. Health care is regulated by the states, and the state association has some degree of power (it varies from state to state) over regulations, legislation, and appointments. It’s good to have a say in how they’ll use that power.
  3. The policies of our best hope for a productive, consensus-building, national organization meant to serve all LAcs, the ASA, are determined by a Council, the membership of which is determined by state associations.
  4. There aren’t that many of us. Even if state associations have 25% of their state’s practitioners as members (optimistic – though maybe our lower percentage is related to misperceptions in how many LAcs practice in the state) that’s still a small number. It’s hard to do much if your organization is supported by and represents fifty people.

You should serve on a Board at least once because –

  1. The experience of: working to give people what they want, balancing the demands of those who want very different things, explaining that there is no shortage of good ideas just resources, explaining (again) why the association can’t provide a health insurance plan, giving people what they’ve asked for only to find out they weren’t really going to take advantage of it (you all said you wanted inexpensive monthly CEU classes, but only two of you came) – is educational. It builds compassion and understanding for those who serve.
  2. It will teach you a lot about regulation, legislation, and how some of what people insist we could do if we just FOUGHT, is not actually doable, even when everyone involved fights their hardest.
  3. Numbers again. A fifty person organization, with a five person board, and three committees of three people means about a third of the members have to be serving at any given time.
  4. People usually become willing to make the sacrifice of serving when they get worked up about something. They feel strongly about a particular issue. It’s good to have balance so one strong leader doesn’t shut out other voices.

Now, for my friends who are serving –

  1. Thank You!
  2. Working for consensus is good. Compromise is good. Listen to the concerns of all of your colleagues and don’t automatically respond with the party line. Be thoughtful.
  3. We’d have an easier time getting people to serve if Board members didn’t end up burdened with tons of administrative work. $$ for political action is important, but let’s not neglect the benefits of $ for organizational support.
  4. Criticism is not the same as negativity. Some positions and actions are deserving of criticism. If we don’t dismiss it, we can learn.

 

And, for all of us — let’s not take our differences personally.

 

(It’s not dark yet. I made it.)

 

(Note to self, 8 posts in 8 days requires advance planning. Not a good spur of the moment project.)

 

 

Proposal regarding Acupuncture Education

The POCA Tech Board of Directors has been studying what it takes to become an LAc and wondering whether there isn’t a better way. POCA Tech has been approved by ACAOM as a candidate for accreditation, and has graduates who are NCCAOM-credentialed, state-licensed and working in the field. The POCA Tech BOD is in a good position to know what works. Here’s what they propose –

Acupuncture Revisions Proposal

I’ve been around long enough to expect the proposal will be met with some outrage. We’ve been insisting that it is the hours of education we have that set us apart. And that almost 2000 hours of training only scratches the surface of what there is to know about Acupuncture and Asian Medicine.

I’ve also been around long enough to know that 1305 hours of training is enough to produce competent providers. That there are countless CEU programs and additional degree programs to help us deepen our knowledge. And that there is no clear evidence that our more extensive training leads to better outcomes.

People want acupuncture. We need more practitioners to meet the demand. And 100K in debt helps no one. I think the POCA Tech proposal makes a lot of sense. What do you think?

 

 

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.

 

 

Dry Needling Updates for LAcs

Not again! Yes, again.

[If nothing else, read: NC AG Opinion, NC Order and Opinion, Henry v NCALB, and TX AG Opinion. If you have an opinion on dry needling, and you want it to be an informed opinion, these documents are necessary reading.]

North Carolina has been a major DN battlefield. It’s been a rallying cry for strong action elsewhere. How’s it going?

Not well.

Some history –

In 2011, the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board (NCALB) requested an opinion from the NC Attorney General regarding the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners’ (NCPTE) decision that Dry Needling was within the PT scope of practice. The AG opinion was that the NCPTE could make this determination if it conducted appropriate rule-making.

Subsequent to that decision, but before the NCPTE concluded the rule-making process, the NCALB sent “cease-and-desist” letters to PT’s practicing dry needling, accusing them of illegal activity. And, in 2015, the NCALB filed a complaint, demanding a ruling that DN was the unlawful practice of acupuncture, and insisting that the PT Board inform its licensees that DN was not within the scope of practice of PT’s.

Given the AG opinion it’s no surprise that the NCPTE (and individual PT’s who had received the cease-and-desist letters) weren’t ready to roll over for the NCALB.

On August 2nd, the Court issued this NC Order and Opinion affirming the NCPTE’s decision that dry needling is within scope for PT’s, and that it is distinct from acupuncture.

(Again, please read the documents. They are critical to understanding why our arguments aren’t leading to more wins.)

In January the court ruled that Henry v NCALB could proceed. This is not good news for the NCALB and its members, who may be found (subsequent to the NC Board of Dental Examiners Supreme Court ruling) guilty of antitrust violations.

My top takeaways —

  • Don’t request an AG opinion if you won’t accept the answer. (A colleague recently wrote that he’s gearing up to “CRUSH dry needling” in Texas. Here’s the Texas AG opinion.)
  • If it’s determined that a PT Board has the power to pursue rulemaking on dry needling, we should make a good faith effort to offer respectful input. We should focus on minimizing risk to the public, while accepting that we don’t get to call the shots. Obstructing the regulatory process or making unrealistic demands puts the public at greater risk. (Also, we should make well-informed arguments. Insisting that dry needling is outside of PT scope after it’s been ruled otherwise, for example, doesn’t help our case.)
  • Don’t use dud ammunition. NCASI and others still argue, for example, that it’s illegal for anyone other than acupuncturists to possess acupuncture needles. The court wrote (highlighting mine)

¶¶ 16–20.) In particular, the Acupuncture Board contends that the needles used in dry needling “must carry a specific FDA warning as required under 21 CFR §880.109(b)(1), stating ‘Caution: Federal law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a [qualified practitioner of acupuncture licensed by the law of the State in which he practices to use or order the use of the device.]’” (Petition ¶ 19) (brackets
and emphasis in original).
50. The Petition takes glaring liberties with the cited regulation, however. The full text of the regulation requires medical devices, such as the solid filament needles at issue here, to include a label bearing: The symbol statement “RX only” or “℞ only” or the statement “Caution: Federal law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a ____”, the blank to be filled with the word “physician”, “dentist”, “veterinarian”, or with the descriptive designation of any other practitioner licensed by the law of the State in which the practitioner practices to use or order the use of the device[.]
21 C.F.R. § 801.109(b)(1). As such, the cited regulation does not support the Acupuncture Board’s argument that the needles used in dry needling are “medical devices” only for use by acupuncturists.

  • Our professions’ news sources are full of misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete information. This AT article, this NGAOM post, and this blog post, are inaccurate – repeating the false needle argument, misstating the finding of the NC rules review commission, and/or misrepresenting what the NCPTE told licensees. We need to do better.
  • Long-term, there may be a few states where PT’s are not permitted to do dry needling, just as there are a few states still not open to LAcs. There is already PT DN in most states. Making the argument that dry needling is acupuncture, as the NCCAOM did in their recent statement, is a terrible mistake. Do we want the PT next door to advertise “now offering acupuncture”? Our statements encourage them to do so. We need to adjust to the current reality.

In 2013 I wrote Imagine, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I can still only imagine where we’d be if we had spent the last four years doing those 11 things, instead of what we’ve done (and continue to do). Let’s stop doing what we’ve done. We can get something better if we understand what’s gotten us here.

 

 

 

Continuous Improvement and Feedback

It’s difficult to make things better when you don’t know what’s wrong.

I’m glad when a client lets me know that something isn’t working. It gives me a chance to change things, or help them find something that better meets their needs. Things are better for both of us when we’re honest.

That’s why I’m having trouble moving on from a column that equates discussion about our problems with treason (“giving the other professions … the ammunition they need to diminish acupuncture”) and so many of the responses to the Gainful Employment regulations. (Here’s a selection — ACAOM gainful employment word, Acupuncture school response, and the ASA’s response.)

The cost of an acupuncture education, how that cost compares to future income, and the likelihood of that income being sufficient to pay off loans in a timely fashion while also sustaining oneself, are critical issues for the profession. Welcoming feedback from those who have “been there and done that” is necessary to guide improvement.

The Gainful Employment rules require transparency and accountability from for-profit career colleges. The regulations don’t close schools. They may, in time, keep students from receiving federal Title IV student aid to attend programs that don’t meet the accountability standards.

Although the impacted schools insist that the education they provide is a good value, they are correct to fear that, absent federal guarantees, students will have trouble coming up with enough money to attend.

Ideally, their concern would translate into concerted efforts to gather data about their graduates’ experiences and provide it to prospective students. They’d focus on what could be done to reduce expenses for students, and develop programs to ease those first few years post-graduation when they acknowledge income may be low. They’d make sure that all prospective students had an understanding of the economic realities of life as an LAc before collecting that first tuition payment.

Instead, when I read the responses from our schools and organizations, I hear, mainly, this isn’t fair, it’s not our fault, and it shouldn’t apply to us.

They argue that the responsibility is on prospective practitioners to educate themselves about the field and educational options, but also say that the data available doesn’t reflect the true picture. (And they fail to mention that before the Gainful Employment rules required it, they paid little to no attention to what happened to their students post-graduation.)

Try comparing the earnings of graduates from various programs, or finding out the percentage of graduates still in the field 5 years later. That data doesn’t exist. How will prospective students get a fair picture if practitioners who are share their struggles are told to keep quiet and say only nice things? If the concern is that some of the things being said are inaccurate or overly negative, take the opportunity to provide correct information and the other side of the story.

Working part-time, having employment structures that don’t accurately reflect all money earned as taxable income, and a lag in the time it takes to reach full earning potential are not unique to acupuncture school graduates.

Low student loan default rates aren’t evidence that all is well. Default carries significant and long-term harms and, luckily, acupuncturists are responsible enough to make payments and take advantage of options to defer or reduce payments when necessary. Of greater significance – do we earn enough to pay off our loans in a timely fashion while also supporting ourselves? Can we save for retirement and purchase disability and health insurance? Will we ever be able to buy a home, or build up a cushion in case of hard times? The overall financial health of the average graduate should be the focus of attention. The highly successful grads are the exception, not the rule.

I’m not surprised that the schools are fighting to avoid consequences for the struggles of their graduates. I am surprised that other organizations and voices are supporting their evasions.

There are more than sixty Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Programs in the US. What’s a bigger threat to our future – that a few might close or that a significant number of graduates, burdened by debt, leave the profession before they can get established? How about the impact of student loan debt on the affordability of our services? Is that important?

Understanding and acknowledging our problems is the first step in making things better. We need more data and discussion, not less. More transparency and accountability, not less. A greater emphasis on making things better, not making excuses for why they aren’t. It’s time for us to own our challenges, not blame and deflect. Let’s get honest.

 

 

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.

 

 

Success is Accessible!

When choosing or upgrading your office there is one consideration that will have a profound impact. Prioritizing it will help you —

  • retain clients for decades
  • appeal to clients who need your services regularly
  • decrease the need to make house calls
  • contract with insurance companies
  • participate in federal programs (such as Veterans Choice and ACA plans)
  • gain respect and referrals from other health care providers
  • keep your office in one location for the duration of your career
  • reduce legal threats
  • minimize workplace injuries to you and your staff
  • comply with civil rights law.

It’s a win, win, win, win, win, win, win,win, win, win.

That consideration is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in every day activities, including medical services. Any private entity that owns, leases or leases to, or operates a place of public accommodation (that includes your office) is responsible for complying with Title III of the ADA. (Source – DOJ/HHS Publication)

19% of the US population reported having a disability in the 2010 census.

If you are blessed with good client retention and a lengthy career your patient population is likely to increasingly include those with disabilities. You might develop your own temporary, or permanent, mobility issues.

Acupuncture schools need to teach students about our responsibilities under the ADA. Ethics classes should address the de facto discrimination that occurs when we choose inaccessible work spaces. And, when practitioners seek advice from peers about potential office arrangements, renovations, or accommodations (such as interpreters) emphasis should be on the legal, ethical, and practical benefits of compliance. Preemptive absolution is offered too often, especially by those who don’t understand the law.

The ADA does include exemptions to protect small businesses from accommodations that would be an “undue burden.” Is a $2,000 lift table an undue burden? How much have you spent on Biomats, lasers, tuning forks, and travel to conferences? Rent for a first floor office might be more, but house calls also affect your bottom line. (If you rely on house calls to comply with the ADA requirements for accessibility, remember: you can’t charge more, you must offer the same level of service, you have to offer flexible scheduling as you would to your in-office clients, and, if you are accepting new clients it is discrimination not to accept those whose disability would make your office inaccessible.)

It’s true, individual practitioners who don’t comply are unlikely to suffer legal consequences and many Practices flourish despite a lack of accessibility.

“Getting away” with not complying is no way to run a business or a health care profession. Doing all we can to meet the needs of those with disabilities is good business, good for the profession, and good for the public. It should be a top priority.

Here are some resources to help you understand the ADA and our responsibilities —

Access to Medical Care for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities

Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations

Title III Highlights

ADA Q & A for Health Care Providers

ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities

ADA and Small Businesses

NPR Story about Accessing Care for People with Disabilities

Post on California Law impacting Lease negotiations

ADA Enforcement Activities

ADA in a Health Care Context

ADA for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Delaware’s Revised Acupuncture Law: Good Will, Good Sense, or Good Riddance (Guest Post)

By Joseph Ashley Wiper M.A., MSc. Dipl. Ac. NCCAOM

 

On June 27th 2008 then Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed HB 377 into law, regulating the practice of acupuncture in Delaware. This law turned out to be problematic and, primarily as a result of legal challenges[1], was replaced on July 19th 2016 when Governor Jack Markell signed HB387 into law. The reported histories of how HB 377 came about (both here and elsewhere) are inaccurate, inconsistent, and have the marks of contrived post hoc fabrications.  I was in constant communication with the self-appointed leader of the initial legislative effort, re-writing a number of the worst paragraphs of the bill during the entire initial process. Almost none of the ‘facts’ in the above reports were shared with me, or the acupuncture community, at the time the bill was being composed and negotiated. I would have reported this history very differently.

The original proposed bill (HB 308), supported by the majority of Delaware practitioners, would have legalized the practice of acupuncture on the basis of possession of the Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM) credential. At the very end of the negotiation process HB 308 was inexplicably replaced with HB377, requiring NCCAOM certification in Oriental Medicine[2]. This, at the time, excluded over 80% of acupuncturists in the US and made acupuncturists the only class of persons in Delaware requiring a license to prescribe or dispense herbs (even if they had no interest in using herbs). I informed all parties involved of the problems, but was ignored. The NCCAOM representative failed, when asked, to produce the data on impact on eligible practitioners. The bill “grandfathered” in those already practicing in Delaware, then locked the door behind them, even though many of them did not meet the terms they were now proposing for everyone else. One licensee has never been to an acupuncture school or written any of the NCCAOM examinations. The “exemptions” clause in the original Delaware law was not written to permit this.

A number of authorities (Rose, 1979 pp. 189-193; Stephenson & Wendt, 2009 pp. 185-189), supported by a multitude of published peer-reviewed  studies, have concluded that occupational licensing laws typically fail to deliver their promised benefits[3]. This is because they originate within, and are driven by, professional associations and not consumer advocacy or public interest groups[4]. They tend to protect the interests of licensees from competition within their jurisdiction, while offering little accountability for engaging in protectionist gamesmanship. Moreover there are good reasons to suspect that interest in protection of the public has been a very low priority in many jurisdictions. The Bradley Case is one particularly egregious example of systemic failure to protect the public interest from moral turpitude in the State of Delaware[5].  Scholars who have studied the problem including (Baron CH, 1983; Kry, 1999; Larkin Jr, 2016)–to name only a few–are near-unanimous in drawing these conclusions based on evidence developed in a multitude of studies. One compelling legal essay asks whether or not state boards should be subject to anti-trust (Sherman Act) scrutiny (Edlin & Haw, 2013). There are literally hundreds of articles to be found in the legal and economic literature that raise these, and related, questions.

Lessons learned?

I am certain that the principal parties at the negotiation table for the original Delaware law, including the ‘representatives’ of the acupuncture community, chiropractic profession, MDs, and members of other already licensed professions were happy with HB 377 precisely because it would reduce competition. The establishment of virtual cartels should never be passed off as protection of the public interest. There are less invasive means of incentivizing professionalism and securing the public trust.  The replacement of licensing with registration and voluntary certification (Kry, 1999 pp. 887-889; Potts, 2009; Program Evaluation Division North Carolina General Assembly, 2014) would be a step in the right direction, although it raises a number of complex, but not irresolvable, issues. Recent legislative initiatives have even questioned the necessity of these less burdensome measures (Kleiner, 2011 pp. 4-5).

What does “the public” need to be protected from? How effective have state licensing boards been at protecting consumers? Stanley Gross sums it up rather well, while asking the question of whether state licensing is actually justified:

Two forms of evidence have been brought to bear on the question of whether licensing is justified. First, there is the empirical research literature, which is rather new, dating for the most part from 1977. There is some support for the proposition that entry restrictions result in more qualified professionals to serve the public, as judged by the somewhat questionable ratings of peers, the self-reports of professionals themselves, and crude measures of consumer satisfaction (reduced malpractice claims and rates). However, measures of quality that tap the availability of professional services, the extent to which consumers choose to substitute other practitioners, and the direct outcomes of service primarily show either no relationship between entry restrictions and quality or a negative relationship.

 

Second, there is the evidence that comes from the evaluation of the functioning of state licensing boards. It has been shown that licensing boards do not effectively determine initial competence of licensees; they do not help to maintain the continued competence of licensees; they are ineffective in the disciplining of errant practitioners; and they do not properly address the needs of under-served populations. Instead, as has been shown, the licensing system has exacerbated the problems of maldistribution and under-utilization of professionals, and it has supported a “licensing for life” system. The evidence presented does not justify the loss of economic freedom or the costs associated with professional licensing. Neither the licensing boards nor the professional associations that desire licensing can be said to have made their case (Gross, 1986, Conclusion).

 

To this I add that consideration of the Bradley case in Delaware illustrates that the entire regulatory mechanism has, at times, failed catastrophically to protect consumers from harm (see above).

The original Delaware acupuncture law was the product of the collision of competing factions seeking to secure their private interests.  Although there was a cacophony of rhetoric about “protection of the public” and “high standards” there is no evidence that any of this was, or has been, intended or achieved.  In the end, this legislation was a failure that resulted in the denial of the right to work for a number of fully qualified acupuncturists. Only those who could afford attorneys succeeded in tipping the balance in their favor.

There have been a number of recent legal challenges to occupational licensing laws (Klein, 2016 pp. 418-420). North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission may signal that courts are now willing to consider the question of whether or not occupational licensing laws actually further legitimate state concerns or, instead, protect individual board member interests (Klein, 2016, p. 419). Further it may indicate that courts may be willing to limit unreasonable barriers to employment. Patel v. Texas Dep’t of Licensing & Regulation concluded that oppressive training requirements may violate the constitution (Klein, 2016, p. 420).

 Conclusions and how we could move forward

It remains to be seen whether the new Delaware acupuncture law is adequate.  The previous law both protected market player interests and instituted onerous and unnecessary barriers to licensure. There were successful legal challenges to the law. This alone indicates that the original legislation was problematic.  In addition, there are several aspects of the regulations proceeding from the original Delaware law that are also problematic –for many of the same reasons.

Recent challenges to occupational licensing laws in this and other jurisdictions should give us pause moving forward. Larkin reviews the grounds on which occupational licensing laws have been criticized. To put it bluntly, they frequently “hijack state power for the benefit of a few” (Larkin Jr, 2016). This is what happened in Delaware. I propose several changes:

  1. Abolish the licensing of occupations where possible. Substitute state registration based on education and training. When consumers ask that their practitioners be licensed what they mean is that they want some assurance of competency. Registration assures competency at least as well as licensing. Registration should be available to any qualified applicant based on either graduation from a legitimate school or training program OR to any applicant who has been certified in either acupuncture or Oriental Medicine by the NCCAOM (or its successor or equivalent).
  2. NCCAOM certification in acupuncture or Oriental Medicine should continue to be permitted. But it should not serve as the sole basis of licensing in any state. Instead it should be used as certification was original intended: as a voluntary means of distinguishing yourself from other market participants. One useful aspect of NCCAOM certification is that it is still possible to become certified on the basis of having completed an apprenticeship program. The documentation required by the NCCAOM to be permitted to write the certification examination based on apprenticeship is rigorous. The number of hours of documented training required exceeds that required of accredited schools. Given that many graduates of accredited schools take on almost insurmountable debt to complete their training, and have few prospects to earn a respectable income upon graduation, this is a potential solution that should be given serious consideration.
  3. A consumer grievance board under the aegis of the state attorney general’s office should be created in every state to hear and act upon legitimate complaints and concerns of any person registered in any occupation. It should be structured to promote the integrity and propriety of those granted the privilege of state registration. The majority of appointees should be members of the public and not occupational registrants. This could, if appropriately implemented, solve the problems of Boards failing to act on consumer complaints and failing to discipline their licensees—a failure that led to the Bradley debacle described above.

Will we do any of these things? What will happen if we continue on our current course? Only time will tell.

(You can see the most current version of this piece (a work in progress) here.)

References

Baron CH. (1983). Licensure of health care professionals: the consumer’s case for abolition. American journal of law & medicine, 9(3), 335–356. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRNGt3aVJDczBSODA

Bryson, A., & Kleiner, M. M. (2010). The regulation of occupations. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 48(4), 670–675. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRM1VER3FaRVdob3M

Edlin, A., & Haw, R. (2013). Cartels by another name: Should licensed occupations face antitrust scrutiny. U. Pa. L. Rev., 162, 1093. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRZ2xyUlpmN0MzUEE

Gellhorn, W. (1976). The Abuse of Occupational Licensing. The University of Chicago Law Review, 44(1), 6–27. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRblFpLXoycmRGYWc

Gross, S. J. (1986). Professional licensure and quality: the evidence: Cato Institute. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRMU9sYlpwR2xDcEE

Klein, A. L. (2016). Freedom to Pursue a Common Calling: Applying Intermediate Scrutiny to Occupational Licensing Statutes, The. Wash. & Lee L. Rev., 73, 411.https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRU0p3Y2tmY3g4UzA

Kleiner, M. M. (2011). Occupational Licensing: Protecting the Public Interest or Protectionism? https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRUmNCb1hDajJ0d3c

Kleiner, M. M. (2015). Reforming occupational licensing policies. The Hamilton Project. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRQ0RWSzEtSWYxWW8

Kry, R. (1999). Watchman for Truth: Professional Licensing and the First Amendment, The. Seattle UL Rev, 23, 885. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRazRRTS1IUjNITm8

Larkin Jr, P. J. (2016). Public Choice Theory and Occupational Licensing. Harv. JL & Pub. Pol’y, 39, 209. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRLUtSTWRtbW52QTQ

Potts, J. (2009). Open Occupations–Why work should be free. Economic Affairs, 29(1), 71–76. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRQUF6TGZRR1BKWU0

Program Evaluation Division North Carolina General Assembly. (2014). Occupational Licensing Agencies Should Not be Centralized, but Stronger Oversight is Needed: Final Report to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Report Number 2014-15. Raleigh, NC 27603-5925. Retrieved from Program Evaluation Division North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.ncleg.net/PED/Reports/documents/OccLic/OccLic_Report.pdf https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRaUo5ZnRtYmxySmc

Rose, J. (1979). Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Analysis. Ariz. St. LJ, 189. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRazJvbFI4aUtrUTA

Stephenson, E. F., & Wendt, E. E. (2009). Occupational licensing: scant treatment in labor texts. Econ Journal Watch, 6(2), 181–194. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B0bO1cR6ClJRM0p1S0Uya050Q1E

[1] See Douglas Robert Briggs V. Board Of Medical Licensure And Discipline of The State of Delaware and this letter written by James L. Higgins with the law firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP  on behalf of two applicants initially denied licensure in Delaware (also to the Board Of Medical Licensure And Discipline of The State of Delaware). Taken together these two challenges confirm just how problematic the law was.

[2] For those who do not know, the requirement that acupuncturists be certified as practitioners of Oriental Medicine would mean that they also had to bear the additional costs of returning to school, writing additional examinations, and pay higher fees to maintain this certification.

[3] These alleged  benefits include promises of quality assurance (Stephenson and Wendt, 2009), reduction of threats to health and safety (Kleiner, 2015), correcting for “information asymmetries” (Larkin Jr, 2016), providing mechanisms of redress for incompetency, dishonesty or malpractice (Bryson and Kleiner, 2010) and a host of others discussed in these papers.

[4]“… the principal proponents of licensing laws are typically the occupational groups themselves” Kry (1999). See also Gellhorn (1976) “Licensing has only infrequently been imposed upon an occupation against its wishes” (p.11).

[5] Final Report Submitted to the Honorable Jack Markell Governor, State of Delaware-May 10, 2010: Review of the Earl Brian Bradley case by Linda L. Ammons, J.D., Associate Provost and Dean, University School of Law, 4601 Concord Pike, Wilmington, Delaware 19803

 

(This post reflects the opinions of the author and is not the work of The Acupuncture Observer.)