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Bill seeks to regulate complementary and alternative healthcare practitioners

Monday, July 27, 2015  
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July 21, Wisconsin Health News

Physician groups oppose a Republican-authored proposal that they say would lessen regulation of alternatives to conventional medicine and healthcare as well as endanger patient safety. 

The bill would require complementary and alternative practitioners, such as those who offer naturopathy, aroma therapy and stress reduction practices, to provide a "plainly worded written statement" explaining that they are not licensed to provide complementary and alternative healthcare services. 

The patient would have to sign an acknowledgment they received the information, and the practitioner would have to retain that notice for at least two years after providing services.

In turn, the Department of Safety and Professional Services could not investigative or take actions, such as issuing a special order or asking a circuit court for a restraining order, if a practitioner used a title without a credential. The department could only investigate actions that fell under the scope of the bill.

Bill author Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, said the legislation allows consumers continued access to complementary and alternative medicine, protects traditional cultural therapies and lowers healthcare costs by "providing an active healthcare market."

"Citizens take responsibility for their health and improve their lifestyles when they pay for services out of pocket thus reining in healthcare costs," his office noted in response to questions about the bill.

But Dr. Ken Schellhase, vice president and legislative committee chair for the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, said while the bill could lead to lower costs, it would allow people who have little training or credentials to provide care. He questioned whether that was the kind of healthcare marketplace that should serve the state's residents.

"There is an appropriate place in modern medicine for complementary and alternative medicine and those providers," Schellhase said. "But I don't think a bill that takes away appropriate safeguards and appropriate monitoring for the public of Wisconsin is the way to have that care happen here."

Roughly 17,000 Wisconsin residents are employed in jobs related to alternative healthcare. Moulton introduced a similar bill in 2011, but it never received a public hearing or a vote in a committee. Moulton noted that seven other states have enacted similar laws.

The bill prohibits people from acting as practitioners if they are or were a credentialed healthcare professional but had that credential revoked and not reinstated. People found incompetent by a court or felons who failed to complete the terms of their sentences would also not qualify.

Practitioners could not prescribe drugs, recommend that treatment by a healthcare professional be discontinued, make a medical diagnosis using a medical term that is commonly used and understood, present themselves as a licensed healthcare professional or provide services to a child without the parent's permission. They could not violate any of the prohibitions under a series of professions, ranging from acupuncture to the selling and fitting of hearing aids.

The Wisconsin Medical Society opposes the bill. Mark Grapentine, the society's senior vice president of government relations, said while some fear being prosecuted for practicing without a license, "we haven't seen rampant prosecution in this area." It's unclear what problem the legislation is trying to solve, he said.

"That means we're doubly concerned that the potential consequences that could come if the bill became law - confusion among the public about their healthcare or a decrease in patient safety - could happen without there having been a need for a 'fix' in the first place," Grapentine wrote in an email to Wisconsin Health News.

Other states that have pursued similar legislation have more patient safeguards in place, Grapentine said. The bill also defines the practice of complementary and alternative medicine as "everything other than what we specifically prohibit," which he called "a troublesome way to define a concept."