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Naturopathic Doctors Get U.S. Senate Support as Congress Declares "Naturopathic Medicine Week" PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Naturopathic Doctors Get U.S. Senate Support as Congress Declares "Naturopathic Medicine Week"

This column was first published here at Integrative Practitoner Online.

The Congressional action was symbolic.  Detractors might call it a classic political act of tossing them a bone. After all, what actual value is there in the U.S. Senate declaration of October  7-13, 2013 as "Naturopathic Medicine Week"?

SR 221 champion: US Senator Mikulski
Yet until this month no Congressional act directly and explicitly acknowledged the existence of the naturopathic medical profession. The naturopathic physicians fit under some 2010 Affordable Care Act umbrella inclusion of licensed "complementary and alternative medicine practitioners" and "integrative health practitioners." Learned eyes can similar sort for naturopathic doctors in the enabling language of the 1998 NIH  National Center Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Now here comes U.S. Senate Resolution 221, passed September 10, 2013, declaring that naturopathic medicine is "safe, effective and affordable health care." Though the field is regulated in just 16 jurisdictions, S.R 221 declares that "naturopathic physicians can help address the shortage of primary care providers."  U.S. citizens are encouraged "to learn about the role of naturopathic physicians in preventing chronic and debilitating conditions."

Jud Richland, MPH, CEO of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), states on the organization's website that "passage of this resolution is a historic achievement for naturopathic medicine." He adds that "Congress has now officially recognized the important role naturopathic medicine plays in effectively addressing the nation's health care needs as well as in addressing the increasingly severe shortage of primary care physicians." The AANP initiated the resolution strategy.

AANP: backers of the resolution
The Resolution, championed by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), does not guarantee anything legislatively for naturopathic physicians. The action doesn't require health plans to cover services of naturopathic doctors or make them providers under Medicaid or Medicare. It doesn't create access to federal loan-repayment programs for new graduates with their $150,000-$250,000 of debt from what the resolution calls a "4-year, graduate level programs that are accredited by agencies approved by the Department of Education." These legislative actions are high on the profession's wish list. 

Still, the action is more than symbolic. The resolution placed in the profession's hands the kind of copy that no marketing agency could ever give them. The profession can state hence forward that the U.S. Senate, through formal resolution, has said some pretty nice things about them.

What profession wouldn't want to be associated with the comments above - safe, effective and affordable? What profession wouldn't want to invite anyone described the following ways into the room at a time of awful costs associated with chronic disease: "naturopathic medicine focuses on patient-centered care, the prevention of chronic illnesses, and early intervention in the treatment of chronic illnesses;" and, "aspects of naturopathic medicine have been shown to lower the risk of major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

For any profession walking onto the stage of national policy, that's a heck of an introduction.

If meaning can be gauged by the ire of opponents, there is power in this S.R. Resolution. Peter Lipson, MD, writing at Forbes magazine online, weighed in immediately with the following column title:  "Senate Declares Naturopathic Medicine Weeks - Wizardry Week Still Under Debate." Forbes regularly opens its virtual space to columns opposing integrative health and medicine.  

Shortly after, David Gorski, MD, the lead bull in the science shop at what should be called Bias-Based-Medicine, re-dubs the naturopathic doctors' victory "Quackery Week 2013." 

The AANP has its own plans. With S.R. 221 as its blessing, the organization is urging its members and affiliated organizations to engage local and state activities to promote the field and "celebrate the healing power of nature."  The event is anticipated to be annualized.

AANP CEO Richland: "A historic achievement"
An event like "Naturopathic Medicine Week" as a public relations and member engagement strategy is hardly new in the complementary and integrative medicine space. There is Herb Day and International Integrative Medicine Day. The chiropractors unsuccessfully pushed a U.S. House resolution in 2010 to establish Chiropractic Health Month. They have gone ahead with 2013 support from Standard Process and Foot Levelers to  elebrate such a month of organized activity in October. 

In an earlier column, I questioned the potential for the Resolution to pass - perhaps underestimating the savvy of Richland, who came to the AANP a year ago with a Beltway network developed through years in the nation's policy action related to prevention, health promotion and public health.

Passage of S. 221 is a tremendous opportunity for the naturopathic profession. The value will ultimately be determined on the ground throughout communities where naturopathic doctors practice. Will the blessing of the U.S. Senate be shouted from the roof-tops by neighborhood weeklies, municipal dailies and a myriad Facebook and blog posts that cover Naturopathic Medicine Week activities?  

The extent to which the profession pulls together to engage this potential will be a measure of the field's vital force as it is recognized under its 100+-year-old name, for the first time, on the national stage.

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