Massachusetts bill would shield quacks from consumer protection laws

Massachusetts bill would shield quacks from consumer protection laws

Practitioners of "complementary and alternative health services" are subject to civil and criminal liability if they violate Massachusetts consumer protection laws or engage in the practice of medicine or other licensed health care profession. A bill introduced in the Massachusetts legislature would strip consumers of these important protections.

If Senate Bill 1136 becomes law, any person, no matter what their education and training (or lack thereof) could totally fabricate a diagnostic procedure, diagnosis or treatment and sell it to consumers without penalty as long as he follows a few simple rules. Absent from the rules is any requirement of a background check or disqualifying criteria for practice, leaving convicted felons and others with a dubious personal history free to hang out their shingles as complementary and alternative health care practitioners, no matter what the circumstances.  

The practitioner must disclose his "degrees, training, experience, credentials, or other qualifications." He is not required to have any of these, nor is there any requirement that, if he does, they come from legitimate educational institutions.

He is presumably allowed to call himself a complementary and alternative health care practitioner, for that is how the bill refers to him. He must tell his client that he is not licensed by the state and must "recommend" that the client notify "other health care providers" of the CAM services she receives.  The disturbing implication here is that this uneducated, untrained and unlicensed person is simply another variety of health care practitioner and that the services he provides constitute real health care, no matter how useless, or even dangerous, they are.

There are a few limitations on the services a complementary and alternative health care practitioner can offer but he would lack the means of providing most of these anyway: surgery, fluoroscopy, radiation, prescription drugs, spinal anesthesia. Recommending or selling dietary supplements or homeopathy is not prohibited. The practitioner cannot provide a "medical diagnosis," leaving the field wide open for any quack diagnosis the CAM practitioner can fabricate. 

A practitioner who follows these rules gains substantial benefits.  First, his practices are, ipso facto, not in violation of state consumer protection laws.  These laws permit both the Attorney General and the consumer to bring suit to enjoin deceptive and unfair trade practices and subject the defendant to civil penalties and damages.  Second, the practitioner is put beyond the reach of laws making the unlicensed practice of a health care profession illegal.

Naturopaths, including "naturopathic doctors" with degrees, are not currently licensed in Massachusetts, although yet another bill has been filed to do so.  Even if they are unsuccessful in that effort, if this bill becomes law, they will still get a free pass as complementary and alternative health care practitioners.  If their licensing bill passes, traditional naturopaths, otherwise ineligible for licensing, will enjoy its protection. 

The bill offers protection for licensed health care providers, such as MDs and nurses, as well: they are not precluded by the bill from "performing any complementary and alternative health services."  Nor can they be penalized for "consulting with or referring to" a complementary and alternative health care practitioner.  Thus, practices that might otherwise fall below the standard of care are exempted from disciplinary action.

This bill is yet another example of the unfortunate infatuation with "health care freedom," the notion that any person should be able to seek any treatment from anyone she desires. Supporters of these bills never acknowledge the flip side of this coin. On the other end of these transactions are charlatans and quacks willing to sell rank pseudoscience to the sick and dying. Sometimes they just want to make an easy buck and sometimes they are following the delusion that they are unappreciated geniuses suppressed by an ever-present "they" -- typically Big Pharma, the government, or the medical profession -- from bringing their miracle cures to the masses.

The bill was heard before the Joint Public Health Committee on Nov. 17, 2015. Let's hope it goes no further. 

Points of Interest 01/05/2016
Phlegm Misting Orifice

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