Senators seek coverage for alternative therapies
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | July 24, 2009
WASHINGTON - Naturopathic doctors, herbal healers, mind-body
specialists, and acupuncturists often have been scorned by the US
medical establishment, but growing numbers of Americans are seeking
such care, and now an influential group of US senators believes the
time has come to embrace an array of alternative therapies.
Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is a longtime supporter of
nontraditional medicine, is at the forefront of the effort to win
insurance coverage for such providers as part of national healthcare
“It’s time to end the discrimination against alternative healthcare
practices,’’ Harkin said at a congressional hearing.
Harkin is the cosponsor of an amendment that says healthcare plans
will not be allowed to “discriminate’’ against any healthcare provider
who has a license issued by a state, an amendment Senate aides said
was designed to provide coverage for alternative medicine. Backers of
the amendment say it could save tens of billions of dollars in the
long run by providing less expensive and better alternatives to drugs
and surgery in a variety of cases. The amendment was adopted by a
Senate committee writing health legislation, but details are still
With hundreds of disciplines falling under the general category of
alternative medicine, and with a variety of sometimes-conflicting
studies about their effectiveness, there is much disagreement about
the value of including such providers in a national health insurance
State by state, there is a wide disparity of coverage of alternative
medicine. For example, Massachusetts licenses acupuncturists, and many
health insurance plans cover the service, but most do so only on a
limited basis, by restricting the number of visits or the dollar
amount of coverage.
Forty-four states license acupuncturists. Fifteen states, not
including Massachusetts, license naturopathic physicians, who use
natural remedies in their treatment.
Many practioners of alternative medicine say mainstream caregivers
don’t want the competition.
But the American Medical Association says there is little evidence to
confirm the safety or efficacy of most alternative practices. “Much of
the information currently known about these therapies makes it clear
that many have not been shown to be efficacious,’’ the association
said in a policy statement. The association denies that it is trying
to stifle competition and says it is only trying to ensure that
medicine is based on science.
Dr. Harriet Hall, a retired Air Force flight surgeon who examines
medical claims for Skeptic magazine, said she worries that ill-
informed members of Congress will elevate practitioners of alternative
medicine to the same level as medical doctors.
“If it were shown to be truly effective, it would be part of regular
medicine,’’ she said.
Nonetheless, the federal government has become increasingly involved
in the field, funding the National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, and states
are increasingly being lobbied by providers to receive formal approval
for the field.
Massachusetts insurance companies recognize the growing consumer
demand for alternative therapies, said Dr. Marylou Buyse, president of
the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, which represents groups
providing services to 2.4 million people. She said coverage varies
from one plan to another, but many plans provide for a limited number
of services such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy.
She said costs would become prohibitive if Congress mandated that an
unlimited number of visits be covered.
Certain kinds of alternative medicine are considered mainstream in
sectors of the Massachusetts medical field, where they are
increasingly called “integrative’’ to emphasize that they are done in
concert with traditional medicine, not as an alternative. At the Zakim
Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,
traditional treatment is complemented by acupuncture and massage
therapy as well as counseling on mind-body techniques to reduce
stress. For example, acupuncture has proved beneficial to reduce
nausea from chemotherapy, according to the center’s co-clinical
director, Dr. David Rosenthal.
“We have a tendency to treat drug symptoms with another drug. We are
looking at trying to find nonpharmalogical approaches,’’ Rosenthal
The two main sponsors of the Senate amendment were Harkin and Senator
Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. Republicans, including the
ranking member on the Senate health committee, Senator Mike Enzi of
Wyoming, also backed the amendment. The Senate committee on Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions agreed to the measure, but it will be
left to the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on companion
legislation, to write crucial language regarding potential
reimbursement, Senate aides said. The matter will then be debated on
the Senate floor, and a similar amendment is expected to be offered in
Whatever the fate of the amendment, merely the fact that it is pushed
by a number of senators has been greeted as a breakthrough by
supporters of alternative medicine.
“I was shocked and elated that it was even on the table,’’ said Shiva
Barton of Winchester, one of 50 naturopathic doctors who practice in
Massachusetts. Barton is leading an effort to have Massachusetts grant
licenses to naturopaths, which in turn might enable them to be covered
in the national plan.
Barton said that he mostly sees patients who have not been satisfied
with the results of traditional medicine.
“We are not opposed to conventional medicine, but it has its limits,’’
Barton said. He talks with patients about lifestyle changes, stress
reduction techniques, vitamins, minerals, herbal agents, acupuncture,
and homeopathic remedies. He said that naturopaths and other
practitioners of alternative medicine are discriminated against by a
system that is dominated by well-financed lobbies for medical doctors
who don’t want competition.
Acupuncturists are also hoping for relief. Harvey Kaltsas, president
emeritus of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental
Medicine, said the country could save billions of dollars by shifting
care for a number of conditions away from pharmaceutical treatment and
toward acupuncture. Kaltsas said the number of licensed practitioners
has grown to 20,000 from just 300 in 1971, indicating that many people
are sold on the practice’s effectiveness.
Proponents of alternative medicine say they cannot match the lobbying
power of conventional-medicine groups, but they have been making
inroads. Dr. Mark Hyman, a physician based in Lenox who has authored
several books on what he calls “ultrawellness’’ said he has met with a
number of senators, as well as administration officials, about the
need to provide for alternative therapies in the healthcare
legislation. He said he has received a sympathetic response to his
argument that the use of complementary therapies can save money.
Proponents of mind-body wellness and related stress-reduction
techniques also want to be included as care providers in the
Dr. Herbert Benson, the Boston-based author of the popular book The
Relaxation Response, said in an interview that Congress should revise
the healthcare legislation to incorporate his stress-reduction
techniques. Educating the public about the techniques, and hiring more
trainers to implement them, would save billions of dollars, said
Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body
Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
He emphasized that he supports using drugs and surgery when necessary,
but he said it is time to adopt national policies that focus on the
need for stress reduction.
Michael Kranish can be reached at kra...@globe.com.
>Senators seek coverage for alternative therapies
If it is true that god created man, then politicians are the zero series.
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Are you still mad?
Still stomping feet?
On Jul 27, 5:46 pm, Happy Oyster <happy.oys...@ariplex.com> wrote:
>> >Senators seek coverage for alternative therapies
>Are you still mad?
>Still stomping feet?
Ralph Paul Autrey Jr. should read the bible!
"Der Wal ist innen voll gestank,
er fri�t nur Krebse, gottseidank."