Will Kansas legalize acupuncture and Oriental medicine?

Acupuncturists and Oriental medicine practitioners are not licensed by the state of Kansas, although there is no shortage of practitioners there. (However, naturopaths can practice acupuncture.) For example, the "Elements" Chinese medicine clinic and herbal pharmacy in Kansas City offers primary care, gastroenterology, endocrinology and women's health, among others, including herbal treatments for what ails you. A bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature (Senate Bill 351) would legalize all that and more. (At least one previous attempt at licensing didn't make it.)

The scope of practice specified in this bill is extremely broad. Acupuncture is defined as a "distinct system of health care based on traditional and modern oriental medicine concepts." As long as it fits into that nebulous category, acupuncturists would be able to diagnose and treat any patient with any disease or condition, physical or mental.

Acupuncture has long been sold to the public based solely on its claim that it is "thousands of years" old. I wonder what the rationale is for these "modern oriental medicine concepts?" It certainly isn't evidence. Any fair summary of the many studies of acupuncture leads to the inevitable conclusion that acupuncture doesn't work.

"Oriental medicine" is broadly defined as well. It includes "Chinese medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Asian medicine, East Asian medicine and other names used to describe such medical model and the therapies taught within such medical model." What I want to know is: Who decides what these various "medicines" include and what "therapies" are "within" them. The bill gives the NCCAOM some authority to direct and approve the education of practitioners, but there is virtually no limit on what these practitioners can do when they are licensed. Only the most unimaginative would feel restrained.

There is a list of sorts of the "therapies" practitioners can employ, but it is by way of description only. The bill specifically says they are not limited to this list. They can, according to the bill, use traditional needle acupuncture, and many variations thereof, including electroacupunture. They can also recommend (and presumably sell) dietary supplements and herbal remedies to their patients. And what wouldn't fit into this description of treatments: "mechanical, thermal, pressure, suction [such as cupping], friction [e.g., gwa sha], electrical, magnetic, light, sound, vibration, manual treatment and electromagnetic treatment. They are prohibited from practicing medicine, surgery and chiropractic, and from prescribing, but there is still plenty of room to maneuver here.

Licensees would also be able to use "auricular detox treatment," which is based on the absurd, and unproven, notion, that sticking needles into the ear at specified points somehow treats drug and alcohol addiction. Developed in the 1950s by a French neurologist, then adopted by the Chinese, it is a perfect example of Oriental medicine's open-door policy to anything that might be shoehorned into this amorphous "distinct system."

Fortunately, for those out-of-state sports teams bringing their own "team acupuncturist, oriental medicine or herbology practitioner" into Kansas, those practitioners won't have to get a Kansas license as long as the team in the state temporarily for training or competition. I'd love to know which sports teams travel with their own "herbology practitioners," wouldn't you? "Persons rendering assistance in the case of an emergency or disaster relief" are also exempt from licensing. One would hope there would not be any such "persons" getting in the way of effective medical treatment in these unfortunate situations.

Fortunately, the bill puts acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners under the supervision of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which also regulates physicians, naturopaths, chiropractors and other health care practitioners, and not an acupuncture board. It also requires liability insurance. The Board of Healing Arts would be assisted by an acupuncture advisory council. However, the Board can exercise only the authority that the Legislature gives it. Any regulation it enacts that the Oriental medicine practitioners feel cramps their style could be challenged in court.

Acupuncturists and Oriental medicine practitioners are openly practicing without any licensing scheme and the state is doing absolutely nothing about it. This bill would only serve to legitimize and legalize their practices and it shouldn't pass. However, as long as the state is going to sit on its hands, perhaps the best strategy here is to severely narrow their scope of practice with a law like Mississippi's. There, acupuncture is available by physician referral only, a limitation acupuncturists have repeatedly tried, and failed, to have lifted.

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