The Politics of Politics

By Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large

Politics is a word that we associate with the art and science of American government. For some reason, it's also a word that seems to strike fear into the hearts of many acupuncturists, who often choose to ignore important political issues, or wish those issues would go simply away. It's not that simple. In fact, politics is becoming more important for our profession with each passing year.

When I teach an ethics class, I always ask if anyone is interested in politics. The usual response is very small; only a few (and sometimes no) hands are raised. I then ask how many people in my class are registered to vote. Usually, a few more people will raise their hands. Next, I ask whether anyone has ever voted. Depending on the time of year and the issues at hand, even more people will raise their hands. I always find this interesting, because it is our elected representatives, both at the federal and state levels, who make decisions about the practice of acupuncture. These politicians design and write the scope of practice laws that define the procedures and modalities an acupuncturist can perform. I always wonder why there are so few people in this profession who seem interested in having a say in what they can and cannot do in their practices.

The political system in the United States is one in which we elect the person (or persons) to represent us at the state capitol and on the federal level in Washington, D.C. It is quite easy to become confused between our state and federal representatives. Do you know who represents you and your family in the state in which you live? What about the person who represents you and your family's interests in Washington, D.C.? We tend to see their names often in newspapers and hear their names on the radio and television.

Some states are more active than others when it comes to legislation involving acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Several states, including South Carolina, have just passed legislation that will affect the practice of acupuncture on the state level. Other states currently have laws that are in the process of being debated; we plan on reporting on those states in upcoming issues of Acupuncture Today.

Do you know if any legislation has been introduced in your state this year? If you are not sure or don't know, you should call your state association and become involved.

I experienced an opportunity recently to lobby a member of my state assembly. Lobbying is a term used to describe the process of speaking with an elected representative about an issue that is important to yourself and your profession. I was leaving my office and walking to the elevator in order to exit the building. Just as I reached the elevator, standing in front of me was an assemblyman from my area. We exchanged greetings, and I proceeded to lobby him regarding current legislation that is going to be presented to the legislature here in California. I was informed on all the important issues; I knew the author of the bills and the bill numbers. I had just enough time during the elevator ride to provide the assemblyman all of the information and ask for his support. It was a great experience. You may not have the opportunity to get a "captive" audience like I did, but the most important factor was that when the opportunity presented itself, I was informed and ready to speak about the issues.

When it applies to federal legislation, it will take all of us becoming involved in order to gain the passage of such bills. One such piece of legislation is being referred to as the Hinchey bill (which you can read more about on the front page of this issue). Maurice Hinchey, a congressman from New York, has authored a bill with two issues that could affect our profession. The first issues relates to the reimbursement for acupuncture services under the Social Security program and administered by Medicare. This would provide reimbursement for acupuncture services to senior citizens 65 years of age and older. The second part of the bill would provide reimbursement for acupuncture services to federal employees, including postal workers, members of Congress, air traffic controllers, and security screeners at many airports across the country, just to name a few. There are tens of millions of senior citizens and federal employees in this country. Passage of such a bill would allow millions of citizens access to acupuncture services.

I'd like to share with you a little bit about another experience I had in Washington, D.C. during the first week of this past March. Since I was in the area, I took the opportunity to visit the Capitol and call on members of the House of Representatives to lobby them regarding the Hinchey bill. I had made the appointments before leaving California. The appointments were spaced to allow time to get to each office on time, since the representatives'offices were located in three different buildings around the Capitol, and you had to go through a security check when entering each building.

The day dawned bright, sunny, windy and cold. The remains of the snow were on the ground, melting into slush. My cab driver stopped outside the first building; I stood in line, went through the metal detector and then came the search for the office number. My first call was to the office of Congressman Gary Miller, who represents an area east of Los Angeles. He came out of his office, called me by name and said, "You are my acupuncture appointment." He told me how he had tried everything for a certain condition, until someone told him to try acupuncture. He went for seven visits, and the problem was solved. He also said that he'd like to meet with a group of acupuncturists to talk about the issues facing the profession.

I continued on to keep all of the appointments and experienced a warm reception in each office, with two more members of Congress agreeing to sign onto the Hinchey bill.

The experience in Washington, D.C. was great. To see our government in action and walk the floors of the Capitol was thrilling. I have given much thought as to how to reach each representative. I went back to my first meeting, and have concluded that the best approach would be to have between three and seven acupuncturists from each congressional district in the United States call on their own congressman or congresswoman. This means that the constituents would meet their own representative, in their own district, to discuss the merits of reimbursement for acupuncture under Medicare and for federal employees. When the representative returns to Washington, D.C., he or she could sign onto the bill, expressing the ideas and wishes of the people he or she represents.

If you are not registered to vote, decide to register today. If you are a registered voter, decide to get involved today. The profession needs you, your ideas and your energy. If you have any ideas on this issue that you'd like to share, please contact me.

Click here for more information about Marilyn Allen, Editor-at-Large.

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