Massachusetts "Quack Full Employment Act" fails

Massachusetts "Quack Full Employment Act" fails

Massachusetts Senate Bill 1136, "An Act providing for consumer access to and disclosure of complementary and alternative health services," died at the end of July, when the formal legislative session of the 189th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as it is officially known, ended. SB 1136 is a so-called "health freedom" bill, versions of which pop up perennially in the state legislatures.  I call them "Quack Full Employment Acts." Unfortunately, they sometimes pass.

The actual wording of SB 1136 and like bills seems innocuous enough if you don't stop to think about the consequences. Under the bill's provisions, "complementary and alternative" health practitioners are free from prosecution for the unlicensed practice of a health care profession as long as they make a few simple disclosures. In addition to name, address, title and telephone number, the client must be given

  • A description of the complementary and alternative health services to be provided;
  • The practitioner's degrees, training, experience, credentials, or other qualifications relative to the complementary and alternative health services being provided; and 
  • A statement recommending to the client that they notify his or her other health care providers of complementary and alternative health services he or she receives.

As long as the services don't fall within the realm of prescribing drugs, surgery, chiropractic manipulations, fluoroscopy, use of radiation, massage or giving a "medical diagnosis," the practitioner is protected. This is no small benefit: the penalty for the practicing medicine without a license in Massachusetts is up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

This leaves the CAM practitioner a lot of room to maneuver. Let's look at just a few examples from the plethora of creative "alternative and complementary" services one could provide, free from the threat of prosecution by the authorities for unlicensed practice:

  • Pediatric "therapeutic touch" provided by a convicted child molester;
  • Diagnoses of non-existent diseases, like "adrenal fatigue" and "chronic candidiasis;"
  • Selling dietary supplements and homeopathic remedies based on dubious claims of health benefit;
  • Using iridology and reflexology to warn of "potential" health problems;
  • Creating fake "certifications" and the like from on-line diploma mills, or with a printer for that matter;
  • Implying that reiki and other "energy healing" methods can (or "may") improve health outcomes;
  • Selling "dietary consultations" and "diet foods" without adequate training in nutrition.

The list is limited only by the imagination. In other words, so-called health freedom bills allow untrained quacks to sell dubious diagnoses and remedies to vulnerable people. It also puts physicians and other health care professionals in the uncomfortable, and time-consuming, position of having to explain to their patients just how they've been bilked. And good luck getting a penny out of an unlicensed practitioner if you're injured – no malpractice or other liability insurance is required.

Bills like SB 1136 are pushed by an organization called the National Health Freedom Coalition, whose support for legislation seems inversely related to the actual scientific evidence in its favor. For example, they support GMO labelling and oppose school immunization requirements. In addition to the quacks themselves, bills are supported by others who financially benefit, like dietary supplement companies.

Unfortunately, a handful of states have actually passed "health freedom" bills. Nevada passed a doozy of law recently, specifically allowing anthroposophic medicine, Gerson therapy, and holistic kinesiology, among others. Colorado passed a bill in 2013. Some states require registration of "alternative and complementary" health care practitioners with the state, others don't.

With chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists, homeopaths, "integrative" physicians and unlicensed CAM practitioners all vying for the consumer dollar, quackery's getting to be a crowded field. 

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