You need a license to cut hair in Idaho, but not to do acupuncture.
“All the states around Idaho have some sort of licensure in place,” said Emi Miller, a Boise registered nurse, herbal therapist and acupuncturist. “Idaho stands alone, and frankly, behind the times.”
Thirty-three states license or certify acupuncturists, including Washington, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Nevada.
Idaho, however, doesn’t license any form of alternative medicine, including homeopathy, massage therapy, herbal therapy and naturopathy.
That means anyone is free to set up shop here, whether or not they’re qualified - even if they’ve lost a license in another state.
Worried about that possibility, Idaho’s practitioners have joined together to propose a registration system. A new statewide board would oversee practitioners and require them to provide only practices for which they are trained.
“It would help patients interested in herbal advice distinguish between somebody who has read six books or somebody who has had four years of schooling,” said Tim Birdsall, a naturopathic physician in Sandpoint.
But the idea hasn’t been well accepted in the Idaho Legislature. Repeated attempts to license such services have failed - even though Idaho licenses a batch of professions already - from beekeepers to scrap dealers, court reporters to cosmetologists, and barbers to morticians.
This morning, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee will be asked to consider introducing a registration measure. But even if the bill is introduced, it may have a tough time clearing the committee.
Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, a committee member, said, “The problem is much greater than just these people.”
Lots of other professions want licensing, too, he said. “There are maybe as many as 100 groups of people who are going to claim, for the health and safety of the people, they need the protection of licensure.”
“I’m not favoring additional licensure bills, or registration bills, until we get a process in place to evaluate them.”
Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, another committee member, said he’ll probably oppose the bill because he favors licensing, not just registration.
Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, another member, said that to be successful, the bill would have to be more specific in setting standards of conduct.
Rep. Bill Sali, R-Meridian, is the bill’s sponsor. He got a similar measure through the House last year, but said, “I’ve got a tough sell in the Senate. I admit that.”
Some senators don’t feel comfortable regulating non-traditional healing arts, he said. But, “The fact that this doesn’t fit traditional Western thinking doesn’t mean that there’s no science to it.”
Alternative medicine has gained credibility in the past decade, said Birdsall of Sandpoint.
Washington considers naturopathic physicians primary care providers, and much of their work is covered by insurance. Colleges offer doctoral degrees in naturopathic medicine. Even the National Institute of Health has an office for alternative medicine.
People who lived through the “honeymoon period of miracle drugs in the 1950s are now realizing the limitations of conventional medicine,” Birdsall said.
He, for example, uses herbs, acupuncture, counseling or diet and lifestyle modifications to deal with arthritis, menopause, upper respiratory infections or chronic headaches.
Todd Schlapfer, a naturopathic physician in Coeur d’Alene, said his patients often are referred by doctors.
Some pay in cash because his profession is not recognized by their insurer. A registration bill would help legitimize alternative medicine in Idaho as in other states, he said.
“I think this is a golden opportunity for the state to acknowledge what thousands of Idahoans already do for their health care - seek help in the healing arts,” Schlapfer said.