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Health Law Boosts Status Of Alternative Medicine -- At Least On Paper

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Ankita Rao

Wed, Jul 24 2013

Jane Guiltinan said the husbands are usually the stubborn ones.

When her regular patients, often married women, bring their spouses to the Bastyr Center for Natural Health to try her approach to care, the men are often skeptical of the treatment plan -- a mix of herbal remedies, lifestyle changes and sometimes, conventional medicine.

After 31 years of practice, Guiltinan, a naturopathic physician, said it is not uncommon for health providers without the usual nurse or doctor background to confront patients’ doubts. "I think it's a matter of education and cultural change," she said.

As for the husbands -- they often come around, Guiltinan said, but only after they see that her treatments solve their problems.

Complementary and alternative medicine -- a term that encompasses meditation, acupuncture, chiropractic care and homeopathic treatment, among other things -- has become increasingly popular. About four in 10 adults (and one in nine children) in the U.S. are using some form of alternative medicine, according to the National Institutes of Health.

And with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the field could make even more headway in the mainstream health care system. That is, unless the fine print -- in state legislation and insurance plans -- falls short because of unclear language and insufficient oversight.

One clause of the health law in particular -- Section 2706 -- is widely discussed in the alternative medicine community because it requires that insurance companies "shall not discriminate" against any health provider with a state-recognized license. That means a licensed chiropractor treating a patient for back pain, for instance, must be reimbursed the same as medical doctors. In addition, nods to alternative medicine are threaded through other parts of the law in sections on wellness, prevention and research.  

"It's time that our health care system takes an integrative approach … whether conventional or alternative," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who authored the anti-discrimination provision, in an e-mail. "Patients want good outcomes with good value, and complementary and alternative therapies can provide both."

The federal government has, in recent years, tapped providers like Guiltinan, who is also the dean at the Bastyr University College of Naturopathic Medicine, to help advise the federal government and implement legislation that could affect the way they are paid and their disciplines are incorporated into the health care continuum. In 2012, Guiltinan, based in Kenmore, Wash., was appointed to the advisory council of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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