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.)

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.

 

 

Acupuncture Organizations New and Old

We have a lot of organizations and associations for a small profession. Here’s some of what they’ve been up to.

AAAOM

Finally, communication from the AAAOM. According to their April mailing they’ve revamped their membership structure and are planning their first annual conference in over five years.

The new membership structure includes a free “Basic Membership” category. Does the basic membership give access to the annual report or permit the member to vote in BOD elections? If not, it isn’t a membership, it’s a mailing list. Calling it a membership gives the AAAOM cover to inflate their numbers (they’ve been throwing 7000 around) and mislead policy-makers about their strength.

ASA

The first Annual Meeting of the American Society of Acupuncturists was held March 4-5. You can read the full summary here. It includes updates on the activities of many other professional groups. Check it out, including the links.

CCAOM

I’ve only recently been alerted to significant problems in the 7th Edition of the CNT Manual released in July 2015.

One example – is wiping a point with alcohol prior to needling still required? In the position paper on their website and the July 2015 AT article CCAOM indicates that the skin does not necessarily need to be swabbed prior to insertion. Page 97 (or 73 in internal pagination) of the CNT manual puts swabbing with alcohol on the Critical (required) list, with the text “swabbing continues to be recommended.” Which is it, critical, or recommended?

The manual also contradicts itself regarding the cleaning of chairs and tables between patients. Must each table and chair be disinfected or cleaned? Between each patient, or only daily?

With our many traditions and practice styles it is difficult to define or describe a “standard of care” for many aspects of our medicine. This gives documents such as the CNT manual extra weight in the legal system.

This area of practice is outside my bailiwick. Is there an expert out there willing to do a thorough review and write a guest post? It is critical (not recommended) that we get this document right.

NCCAOM Academy of Diplomates

Yes, another new national organization. My feelings about it are as conflicted as my feelings about the NCCAOM.

On the one hand, NCCAOM Diplomates are a significant portion of the profession, and the NCCAOM has the money, power, and support staff to get things done. Earning a seat on the CPT committee (see the ASA report), for example.

On the other hand, an organization that promotes Diplomates only (and how can they vouch for anyone else) runs the risk of deepening a fault line in the profession. The NCCAOM’s history in the regulatory arena shows 1) they are persuasive and 2) their positions often benefit the NCCAOM and some subset of practitioners at the expense of the profession as a whole.

We don’t have a balance of power in the profession. The NCCAOM is in a weight class by itself and the Academy further tilts the scales in their direction.That concerns me. On the other hand, we’ve got no other group heavy enough to get in the ring with non-Acupuncture groups right now.

Let’s keep a close watch on the Academy.

NGAOM

The sparsely attended (30 practitioners?) February Town Hall covered why the NGAOM-affiliated malpractice insurance is such a bargain, how the OPEIU can help the NGAOM, and what’s happening in various states regarding dry needling and insurance reimbursements.

What I didn’t hear was further discussion of NGAOM’s baffling goal of mandating malpractice insurance for licensees in all states. Despite their claims, there is no evidence that lack of mandated coverage has had any impact on scope of practice issues or on how we are seen by other professions. Any insurance plan, landlord, wellness center, or employer can choose to require malpractice coverage. But if a self-employed or unemployed (by choice or circumstance) practitioner decides to bear the risk of working without malpractice insurance, they should be allowed to do so.

If this is the NGAOM’s idea of helping practitioners, we’re in trouble.

 

A few months ago I mentioned that change might be coming to The Acupuncture Observer. I haven’t yet resolved the tension between sharing breaking news and saving my limited time to explore the broader philosophical and strategic issues facing the profession. Would any of you like to be a breaking news blogger? (ASA, would you like a state update column every now and then?) For now, I’ve added a Facebook feed to the home page of the blog. Checking there (or liking The Acupuncture Observer on Facebook) should help you stay informed between posts.

 

 

Acupuncture Organizations 2015 – State of the Profession

The 40ish days between January 1st and the Lunar New Year are perfect for reviewing the past year and preparing for the next year. What worked, what didn’t? What direction will we go in when the days warm, the yang rises, and we spring forward?

There is much to consider when evaluating our practices and our profession. To understand how it all fits together we need to dive into the weeds. It’s going to take a few posts, but it will be shorter than the tax code!

Associations/Organizations/Guilds —

AAAOM (The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine): Historically, our national professional association. And, historically may be all. The website shows no action items since 3/13/14, and no President’s blog post since 10/9/14. Is there anybody there? Is the AAAOM still alive?

ACAOM (The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: Graduation from ACAOM-accredited schools is a requirement in many states. 2015 ended with an announcement of a Degree Titles and Designation Project. This should be interesting – there are already graduates of and students in the existing range of programs and there are widely varying state rules. Better late than never? (Wouldn’t it be easier for the public if we were all Acupuncturists?)

ANF(Acupuncture Now Foundation): Finally, there is an international charitable organization dedicated to educating the public, other health care providers, and those who work in health care policy. For too long we’ve relied on piecemeal efforts to educate others.The ANF is just getting started and needs our support to provide a visible, accessible and positive message about who we are and what we do.

ASA(American Society of Acupuncturists): This non-profit collaboration of state associations launched in 2015. The ASA has potential, and challenges. One challenge – “six degrees of separation” between individual practitioners and the group. A planned website should help bridge the gap. Of greater concern – at the state level, the ASA defers to the preferences of the state association. If an ASA-member state association supports a law or regulation that serves its current members to the detriment of all other LAcs, too bad, so sad for the profession as a whole. There are good people involved with this group so I remain cautiously optimistic. I hope that, before too long, the member groups will see that a victory that disadvantages other Acupuncturists isn’t a win.

CCAOM (Council of College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine): The membership association for schools and colleges of AOM with ACAOM accredition or candidate status. They administer the NCCAOM required CNT course, and released an updated (available free!) CNT manual this month.

IHPC (Integrative Health Policy Consortium): The IHPC “advocates for an integrative healthcare system with equal access to the full range of health-oriented, person-centered, regulated healthcare professionals” and has been working to build enforcement of Section 2706 of the ACA to end insurer discrimination against classes of licensed health professionals working within their scope. I don’t know of any LAc that doesn’t support this group’s mission, so it is odd that many LAcs support legislation that would create this sort of discrimination.

NCASI (National Center for Acupuncture Safety and Integrity): One individual? Silent for many months now.

NCCAOM (National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine): The NCCAOM “validates entry-level competency in the practice of AOM through professional certification.” Their vision is that AOM “provided by NCCAOM credentialed practitioners will be integral to healthcare and accessible to all members of the public.” They are powerful, organized, effective, and better funded than any other acupuncture group. They have had a major role in the path to licensure in many states. However, if you are not an NCCAOM diplomate, feel that the credentialing process is out of hand, and/or if you value traditions other than TCM, the NCCAOM is probably working against your interests.

NGAOM (The National Guild of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine): A professional medical society organized as a guild under the OPEIU, affiliated with the AFL-CIO. The NGAOM list of 13 VP’s includes the VP, Immediate Past President,Treasurer and one additional board member of the AAAOM and following in that tradition there is significant mystery around their membership and their decision-making process. They want the profession of acupuncture to be more like other health professions. Many LAcs affected by their work aren’t pleased with the consequences. You’ll learn more in upcoming posts.

POCA (The People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture): Mission — “to work cooperatively to increase accessibility to and availability of affordable group acupuncture treatments.” 708 Punk (Acupuncturist) members, 138 clinic memberships, and 1348 patient members. Minutes of meetings posted in their forums, 8 free CEU’s for practitioner members, loads of member support, and a school (POCA Tech) working towards ACAOM accreditation and currently accepting applications for the third cohort of students. This is a successful acupuncture organization.

State regulatory boards are not professional organizations or associations. Their mission is to protect the public, not promote licensees.

An exploration of acupuncture education, events in the states, legislation and regulation, and other items of interest, including more about these organizations, will be coming soon.

 

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.

 

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

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.

NCCAOM Code of Ethics & Grounds for Professional Discipline

The NCCAOM is preparing to update the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline and is asking for input. Informed comment requires not only a review of the documents, but also an understanding of the role of the organization.

The path to become an MD in the US is straightforward. Go to college and medical school, sit the licensing exams, complete a residency, apply to a state regulatory board, and, if desired, obtain a board certification in a specialty.  (It is not necessary to be board certified to become a licensed medical doctor, and it is not possible to become an m.d. without successful completion of the licensing exams.)

When the NCCAOM (then the NCCA) was established in 1982 few states had formal licensure. Rigorous credentialing was thought necessary to gain acceptance by the medical establishment. Having a group supported by the profession to ease the regulatory burden on states regarding this new profession was also helpful. Some states weren’t (and still aren’t) at all interested in licensing acupuncturists. In those states, a formal credential to attest to an ongoing fitness to practice was appealing.

But conflict in the early days of the profession, both within the community and from the outside led to disparate paths to practice. There was disagreement about how to test and evaluate the huge knowledge base and varied traditions of the medicine, and how much power to give to any one group. Additionally, the political climate in the various jurisdictions differed greatly.

The NCCAOM‘s official role is to validate “entry-level competency in the practice of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine through professional certification.” But, the NCCAOM is really a chimera, a hybrid, due to the factors mentioned above. It has become a quasi-regulatory agency in some states, establishing practice standards and acting as a disciplinary agency. In other ways it is more like a specialty board — attesting to a particularly high level of qualification (but not exactly, since some states require NCCAOM certification for entry level practice). And, the ongoing weakness and dysfunction of the AAAOM (I’m still waiting on membership numbers, but the practitioner search function reveals the weakness) has led the NCCAOM to fill promotional needs and provide professional support, roles typically handled by professional organizations.

So, does the Code of Ethics and Grounds for Professional Discipline support the NCCAOM’s role of validating entry-level competence? Should it fill the role of a regulatory agency with control over whether or not individuals can obtain or maintain their license? Should it uphold a particularly high standard of practice, suitable for a selected subset of practitioners? Should it fulfill a PR need for the profession? These all need to be considered as we get ready to provide feedback to the NCCAOM.

The NCCAOM has requested input by September 12th.  In part II of this post, coming soon, I’ll share more background information and provide my own thoughts about the documents. I look forward to hearing what you think about the documents and encourage all of us to offer input by September 12th.

AOM Leaders?

Who decides the future of the profession?

Did you know about the meeting of the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine “leaders” last weekend?

Who represents working acupuncturists at these meetings?

These meetings started in 2005. You can read about previous meetings herehere, and in CCAOM newsletters. Attendees typically include reps from ACAOM, CCAOM , NCCAOM, SAR, NFCTCMO, CSA, AAAOM, AOBTA, and sometimes COMRE. It’s good (I think) that these groups are communicating. It’s not good that most acupuncturists in the US are several degrees of separation away from representation there.

There’s not yet a publicly available report of the 2015 meeting. I do know —

The AAAOM continues to be invited and to attend, despite being out of compliance with their bylaws for years. The AAAOM website currently has no news of the recent elections, the board information is outdated, and there is still no whistleblower protection policy. Word is that the current board overlaps significantly with the board of the NGAOM. Michael Jabbour continues to fill the board position of Immediate Past President (what happened to the real immediate past President Don Lee?) and was present at the AOM Leaders meeting. Membership numbers of the organization are a mystery and I hear the AAC continues to provide much of their funding.

The others present at these meetings know that the AAAOM is a deeply troubled organization that represents only the smallest handful of practitioners. Why, oh why, does the AAAOM rate a seat at the table?

Representatives of the Council of State Associations are also in attendance at these meetings. I am glad that the CSA exists, working to mitigate the damage done by the lack of a functional national organization. I’m concerned, though, that few practitioners have any direct knowledge of this group and what they have to say at the AOML meetings. If you are involved with a state organization, and if the state organization participates in the CSA and communicates back to the membership, then you’ll find out about the CSA. Otherwise, you’re in the dark.

Why isn’t POCA invited? I don’t suppose they’d enjoy being there, but if the AAAOM with their mystery membership is invited, and the NFTCTCMO is invited, why isn’t POCA?

It’s difficult to find the right tone for this post.  I know the groups representing acupuncturists depend on volunteers who are doing their best. I also know that working practitioners too often find themselves at the mercy of the “good ideas” of credentialing agencies, accreditors, schools, and a few powerful colleagues. To make it worse, most practitioners have been misled about what actions are likely to be effective and create positive change.

When I look at who is invited to the AOM Leaders meetings, and how far most of us are from what happens there, it’s no surprise that so many of the developments within the profession seem to work against the best interests of acupuncturists. It reminds me of Congress, and that’s not a good thing.