Naturopaths push for state licensing, right to call themselves ‘doctor’

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It’s a tiny sliver of Indiana’s health-care landscape: eight people who hold degrees from accredited schools of naturopathic medicine.

They are pushing, once again, for the right to be called “doctor” in Indiana and to hold a license of naturopathic medicine.

For the third year in a row, their professional group, the Indiana Association of Naturopathic Physicians, is pushing for a bill in the state legislature that would set up a licensing system for them and allow them to advertise as doctors.

House Bill 1427 would establish a State Board of Naturopathic Medicine to establish license requirements. The bill would define naturopathic medicine as the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of health conditions, injuries and diseases using counseling, hydrotherapy, orthopedic gymnastics, electrotherapy, articular manipulation and other natural methods.

The bill’s author, Rep. Don Lehe, R-Brookston, was unavailable for comment.

Indiana currently does not provide a license of naturopathic medicine, something that 21 others states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands offer, the association said. Several of those states, however, still prohibit naturopath practitioners from calling themselves physicians.

Some Indiana naturopaths say they want the right to hold licenses, so they can set themselves apart from others who claim to be naturopathic providers but do not hold degrees from accredited colleges.

BreAnna Guan, owner of Balanced Natural Health in Bloomington, said the measure would “protect the public” by helping them determine which naturopathic providers have necessary education and training to hold a license.

“Here in Bloomington, I can think of three or four others calling themselves naturopaths, but they don’t have a degree from an accredited school,” she said.

Guan said she holds a doctorate from Bastyr University in Seattle. The school, founded in 1978, offers courses in acupuncture, herbal science, midwifery, human biology and holistic landscape design.

In recent years, naturopaths—which number about 4,000 nationally—have been trying to rally support for federal programs that would allow them to be reimbursed by Medicare. Only one hospital in Indiana, Goshen Health, has a naturopathic provider.

But naturopathic healing has its critics. In recent years, the American Medical Association has opposed the use of the titles “doctor,” “resident” and “residency” for naturopaths, saying the title should be used only by physicians, dentists and podiatrists.

The Indiana State Medical Association said it was “monitoring” H.B. 1427, but did not offer further comment. The group last year opposed a similar measure, S.B. 508, which died in committee.

It remains doubtful whether the bill has any shot at becoming law. State Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, chair of the House Public Health Committee, said she doesn’t plan to hold a hearing on the bill during this year’s short session.

“We need to know more about this field and see whether it fits in with traditional medicine in Indiana,” Kirchhofer said. “It represents a big culture shift.”

But Guan, president of the Indiana Association of Naturopathic Physicians, said her group hopes to “keep the discussion alive” and will continue to push for a similar bill in coming years.

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