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Acupuncture Today
March, 2009, Vol. 10, Issue 03
 
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Health Care Challenges Open AOM Legislative Window

By Harvey Kaltsas, AP, Dipl. Ac., Past President, AAAOM

There are times when certain acupuncture points are open, and needling them then can have the greatest effect on restoring health. The same is true in the world of politics. There are appropriate and opportune times to get things done. It is indeed indisputable to state and federal legislators from both political parties that our unsteady economy suffers from, among other afflictions, a seemingly endless spiraling of health care costs.

These unprecedented health care challenges present great opportunities for our nation. As a profession, we must collectively recognize that the election of President Obama and the new political leadership presents the AOM profession with a precious window of opportunity to align our interests with a progressive national health care agenda.

Now is the time for our profession to raise funds for a national lobbyist, mobilize our state associations and deploy a coordinated, grassroots lobbying effort. Now is the time to strengthen our alliances with key legislators. Now is the time to mobilize all our resources, expertise and efforts and seize this opportunity to significantly advance our pro-AOM legislative agenda in Washington, D.C., as well as every single state capital. Let us take a look back to the last time the political window of opportunity was open to us so we can better understand the gravity and fleeting nature of this moment.

Although no two political periods are identical, the early years of the Clinton administration (1992-1995) presented the AOM profession with a similar window of opportunity for political gain. During that period, members of the AAAOM befriended key U.S. Senators (several of whom became acupuncture patients) and congressional representatives, who helped us successfully push for the FDA to reclassify acupuncture needles. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) went so far as to say that it would be insane for the FDA to do anything less. Many veteran practitioners will also recall that Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) introduced the Federal Acupuncture Coverage Act. Former Attorney General Janet Reno argued for including NADA-style acupuncture detox programs throughout the U.S. correctional system. The National Institutes of Health arrived at a consensus statement pronouncing that acupuncture was a safe and effective modality that should be included in the nation's health insurance coverage system so that there would no longer be financial barriers to its use.

As then-president of AAAOM, I was called upon by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Ia.) to testify on alternative health care. I also had the privilege of meeting three times with former President Bill Clinton, who assured me that acupuncture would be included in his wife's national health plan proposal. After considerable reading about acupuncture, Hillary Clinton even asked AAAOM research chair Dr. Marney Naeser and me to treat her own father, Hugh Rodham, who had succumbed to a stroke. Unfortunately, he passed away the day before we were to arrive in Little Rock.

AAAOM members also met several times with former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and former Vice President Al Gore during this time period. These events helped the AOM profession gain positive national publicity and achieve significant political advancements during this period. Although we established strong political support, in the end, we fell short of some of our major political goals, such as: legalizing the practice of acupuncture by licensed acupuncturists in all 50 states; gaining widespread coverage of acupuncture in federal and private insurance plans; and making AOM students eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs by working in impoverished areas after graduation.

Our failings at that time can be traced to both external and internal factors. Certainly the changeover in Congress and President Clinton's fall from grace played a key role in the closing of our political window of opportunity. However, internal strife among our profession's national leaders also played a significant role in our failure to fully capitalize on that opportunity.

Since then, we have learned and grown extensively as a profession not just in numbers, but in maturity of our thoughts and actions. We have come together again on the national level, powerfully aligned in unified spirit and purpose, where we once again have a window of favorable political opportunity and a smarter and stronger profession. In the next few years, with the right lobbyist, grassroots efforts and legislative alliances, there is no doubt we will achieve the three aforementioned elusive goals.

Archimedes once said, "Give me the proper fulcrum and a place to stand, and I can move the world." For AAAOM and our profession, that fulcrum may very well be the 71st annual convention of the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL), which meets next Labor Day weekend in Albuquerque, NM. This convention is home to the 3,300 women elected to state legislatures and the U.S. Congress nationwide, whose primary concern is the health of their constituents.

On Nov. 20-23, 2008, AAAOM members were providing acupuncture at the most recent NFWL convention, treating approximately 60 of the 550 women legislators present, including the NFWL's president, chair, and most recent past-chair. AAAOM could have treated a hundred more had we been prepared for the incredible demand for our services.

Here are a few of the many positive political connections we made through the power of our needling: One of the most knowledgeable members of the legislature insisted that we present her a bill to obtain insurance coverage for acupuncture in her state. Two others were eager to find acupuncturists near their homes but were disappointed to discover that acupuncture by non-MDs is illegal in their states. They are now interested in promoting licensing legislation. Another was proud that her legislature had finally passed an acupuncture licensure act last year. Another representative was very interested in the use of acupuncture and the herb ge hua (Flos puerariae) for the treatment of alcoholism. Several other legislators were grateful that AAAOM was able to give them treatment and guidance for some of their own difficult health problems and to refer them to practitioners in their home districts.

As a result of the overwhelmingly positive buzz about our profession throughout the weekend, the NFWL leadership asked AAAOM to form an alliance with them to advance our mutual goals. NFWL wants AAAOM's support and leadership in creating a properly nourished, healthy America with far less drug dependence. In return, once AAAOM's national lobbying firm is selected, NFWL looks forward to working with them in order to achieve AAAOM's political goals.

NFWL can be a truly powerful political ally for AAAOM throughout the country. They have close relations with Sen. Harkin, who is authoring the new national health plan's language on alternative and preventative medicine, and newly designated Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle, among many others in the Obama administration, state legislatures and the federal congress.

The AAAOM National Governmental Affairs Committee and intra-committee task force is in the process of coordinating a legislative plan and fundraising campaign. We encourage acupuncture professionals, including schools, to enroll as members of the AAAOM . Actions needed to gain representation for acupuncture and Oriental medicine in the United States are such issues as licensing in all states, herbal access and increased scopes of practice. Join AAAOM now to assist our only national AOM professional organization to gain a voice in Washington. To contribute to our political action fund please go to www.aaaomonline.com/paf and pledge $10 a month to political representation for our profession. With your help, we will attain our goals. There has never been a time like now for AOM in America.

Let's recognize our open window, seize the day and not be denied.


Dr. Harvey Kaltsas was president of AAAOM from 1992-1994, served as chair of the Florida Board of Acupuncture from 1987-1991, and was vice chair from 1999-2001. He is in private practice in Sarasota, Fla. and is currently authoring books on gua sha massage and the dangers of X-rays.

 

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