Does the use of herbs and vitamins constitute a medical practice, as defined by medical health insurance for claims purposes?
Naturopathy – an alternative medical system – utilizes treatments based upon such foundations as changes to diet, medicinal herbs and vitamins. The practice relies on those methods rather than the use of pharmaceuticals for treating various conditions.
Critics say that “Naturopathic medicine” is little more than a recent incarnation of “naturopathy,” the 19th-century health movement which touted “the healing power of nature.” Those critics say the training regimen for Naturopaths “amounts to a small fraction of that of medical doctors who practice primary care.”
Despite the critical stance taken against the practice by the medical establishment, naturopaths are making legal and political headway across the nation. Those inroads include licensing in 13 states and an appointment to the US Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee.
The critics are not pleased with that appointment to the Medicare body:
“Naturopathic theory and practice are not based on the body of basic knowledge related to health, disease, and health care that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. Moreover, irrespective of its theory, the scope and quality of naturopathic education do not prepare the practitioner to make an adequate diagnosis and provide appropriate treatment.”
But Naturopaths in Maine are now pushing a piece of legislation aimed at preventing insurers from discriminating against health care providers licensed by the state.
Chenette says current laws prevent patients in Maine from having access to the licensed health care providers of their choice.
“This would provide network adequacy for naturopathic doctors. This just ensures more options for people,” Chenette says of his proposal.
Skeptics among practitioners of conventional medicine say any proposals to allow Naturopaths licensing – and access to insurance coverage – go against the best interests of patients. While the state of Massachusetts approved a licensing board for naturopaths this year, it didn’t happen without high-profile protests by the Massachusetts Medical Society.
And health industry experts say they’re worried the bill will result in health insurance premium increases. One such private, non-profit insurance company in Massachusetts went so far as to testify against the bill during a public hearing process there. The company lodged a complaint which said the proposal “goes too far in mandating new coverages.”
And in Maine, the state superintendent of insurance, Eric Cioppa, testified against the bill being considered in his state. According to Cioppa, Chenette’s proposed bill would prevent insurers from limiting the number of providers in their networks. Cioppa called that “a cost control issue.”
Despite the skepticism, naturopathy is growing in popularity with patients. There are about 6,000 naturopaths in the country, up from just hundreds three decades ago.
Anne Jacobs, a naturopath practicing in Maine, represented the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors and testified at a recent hearing supporting the Chenette bill.
“We need patients to have access to the health care that will best suit them, whether it’s for their annual exam or for alternative options to pain management,” Jacobs says.
Chenette’s bill goes in front of the Maine state legislature’s Committee on Insurance and Financial Services this week.