The fight over regulating alternative medicine

Two years ago we brought you the story of Ohio’s out-of-control war against natural health [“Who You Callin’ a Quack?,” May 4, 2005]. Tired of harassment from state licensing boards, practitioners of such disciplines as mechanotherapy, reiki and rolfing sought a “health-care freedom” bill to limit the boards’ powers to investigate them. The boards themselves maintain that when they bust a quack, it’s only to protect the public. “It’s not about turf,” says Richard Whitehouse, executive director of the State Medical Board of Ohio. One version of a freedom bill was introduced in 2005, but languished for more than a year without a vote. It would have allowed the boards to step in only when a quack performed surgery, prescribed drugs, didn’t disclose their qualifications or actually harmed a patient. Now it’s back – and opposing it are not just the boards bent on busting quacks, but most alternative medical providers themselves. House Bill 148 would require them to register annually with the Department of Commerce, which would then create a separate office to investigate any complaints. Naturally, Whitehouse opposes licensing anyone who he says, for example, touts the health benefits of walking in circles or drinking one’s own urine. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he says. “They’re setting loose people you wouldn’t trust your car with.” But practitioners think HB 148 is too restrictive. They fear registration as a front door to regulation and government policing. Joe Bassett owns two health-food stores in Toledo, is a reiki practitioner, and performs iridology, which he says can diagnose illness through the eye by first squeezing the finger. “This bill scares me,” he says. “Never is better than what they’ve got.” But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), says the alt-medicine field isn’t offering any realistic alternatives. He’ll work with them on the registration issue, but believes that until something gets done, quacks are breaking the law. “It’s not good enough to say ‘I want to be left alone,’” he says. – Jason Nedley
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