In January 2000, Nebraska state senator Carol Hudkins attempted to even out the political playing field between acupuncturists, medical doctors and other health care practitioners by introducing Legislative Bill 981.
Also known as the Acupuncture Practice Act, the bill would have made Nebraska the 40th state in the U.S. to allow the legal practice of acupuncture.
Although LB 981 was not passed last year, it hasn't stopped concerned legislators from reviving the issue in order to give acupuncturists more equal footing under the law -- and give their constituents more treatment options in the process. This January, Senator Hudkins introduced new legislation (Legislative Bill 270) that, if passed, would create regulations to allow Nebraska's licensed acupuncturists to practice legally.
"Both the Nebraska Medical Association and this state's chiropractors support my bill," she said in a recent press release. "Despite any objections that its opponents may have, it makes no sense to continue prohibiting the most qualified practitioners from administering acupuncture, while allowing relatively untrained health care providers to use it as part of their practices with absolutely no oversight or regulation whatsoever."
Legislative Bill 270 is essentially the same legislation as the Acupuncture Practice Act, with some slight modifications. Under the proposed law, health care professionals already allowed to administer acupuncture within the scope of their practice (such as medical doctors and chiropractors) could continue to do so. Anyone else wishing to perform acupuncture in Nebraska, however, would need to be licensed to do so under the state's Uniform Licensing Law.
Acupuncturist applications would be managed by the Department of Health & Human Services Regulation and Licensure. To qualify for licensure, applicants would need to be at least 19 years of age and show proof of the following: 1) current status as a diplomate in acupuncture of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, or good standing to practice in another jurisdiction; and 2) completion of a Commission-approved course in clean needle technique. The state's Board of Medicine and Surgery would be responsible for the regulation of licensed acupuncturists.
In addition, LB 270 would legally define acupuncture as "the insertion, manipulation, and removal of acupuncture needles and the application of manual, mechanical, thermal, electrical and electromagnetic treatment to such needles at specific points or meridians on the human body in an effort to promote, maintain and restore health and the treatment of disease, based on traditional and modern Oriental medical principles." Acupuncturists could provide such modalities as dietary guidelines and nutritional support that would enhance the effectiveness of treatment; however, they would not be permitted to mobilize a patient's spine or practice medical nutritional therapy.
In order to practice on a patient, acupuncturists would need a referral for care, or a diagnosis and evaluation, completed by a medical doctor or osteopath within the previous 90 days preceding the date of initial treatment. Acupuncturists could only practice on patients after obtaining their voluntary informed consent. Practitioners would have to provide patients with information on the differences between Western medicine and acupuncture, as well as any risks involved with treatment, as part of the consent process.
Finally, LB 270 would establish an Acupuncturist Fund. All moneys collected by the passage of the bill would be placed in a fund to help carry out and enforce the bill. Any excess funding would be invested by the state for future use as needed.
Bill Status Remains Uncertain
As we go to press, the fate of LB 270 has yet to be determined. According to state law, any bill proposed in the Nebraska legislature must go through three stages of formal discussion (General File, Select File and Final Reading) before it can be presented to the governor to be signed into law. The bill was delivered to the legislature on January 5th, then referred to the state's Health and Human Services committee on January 10th, with considerable debate over some of the bill's legislative language.
While the Nebraska Medical Association has not given any opposition to LB270, the Nebraska Chiropractic Physicians Association (NCPA) has been more obstinate. At a public hearing on January 25th, the NCPA's president, Dr. Tom Rohrick, said that the bill "could harm the chiropractic profession"1 because it would allow acupuncturists to perform body manipulations. However, an amendment added to the bill in February satisfied the chiropractic profession's concerns by restricting acupuncturists from performing such procedures.
Despite this early opposition to the bill, it has successfully passed through the first two stages of formal discussion. According to Senator Hudkins, the Final Reading vote for the bill should take place within the next two weeks. With the advantage of the legislature holding its "long," or 90-day session this year, she remains confident that the amended version of LB 270 will soon become law.
"This bill is about choice," Hudkins explained. "It is about permitting patients to choose the type of care that they want, from whomever they decide is best qualified to offer it."
Stay tuned for updates on the status of LB 270 and other proposed acupuncture laws across the U.S. as more news becomes available.
Hicks N. Chiropractors oppose bill on acupuncturists. Lincoln Journal-Star, January 26, 2001.
Editor's note: The complete text of LB 270 can be found by visiting the Nebraska state website (www.state.ne.us) and clicking the "Your Government" section.