Colorado Naturopath Bill Fails

The Colorado House Health and Environment Committee voted down HB 1173 which would have created a registration process for naturopathic doctors in Colorado. The bill was defeated on a 7-6 vote along party lines with Republicans opposing the bill.

A March 1, Colorado News Agency article – Regs On Naturopathys Rejected in Committee — discusses the bills defeat. In reading the article, I find it interesting that all parties (including the bill’s sponsor) are operating under the misconception that naturopaths and other “alternative healers” may legally provide care to patients in Colorado. Most seem to believe that the Medical Practice Act is merely a title protection statute that only prevents the unlicensed from calling themselves “doctor.” While using the term “doctor” in connection with the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or condition is illegal, with limited exceptions, charging for health care without a license is illegal in Colorado — whether you call yourself a doctor or not. Although hundreds of alternative providers continue to treat clients in the state, it is clear that the practice is prohibited under the Medical Practice Act. That alternative providers continue to treat clients is a product of the Colorado’s lack of resources and lack of enforcement, rather than the legality of the practice.

Colorado Once Again Considers Licensing Naturopaths

The long-running saga of licensure for naturopaths in Colorado has garnered some national attention, although the odds that Colorado will pass licensure legislation remain slim. The New York Times ran an article — Licensing Naturopaths Incites Debate in Colorado – NYTimes.com – this week discussing the many sides of the battle over HB 11-1173.

The debate over licensure creates unusual allies. Proponent of licensure are primarily naturopathic doctors, who attend four-year accredited programs and receive some medical training. Naturopaths argue that creation of a regulatory scheme will protect the public. Opponents include the Colorado Medical Society, (representing the interests of medical doctors) and alternative medicine providers who do not fit the definition of a naturopathic doctor. The medical community feels that the law would permit naturopaths to treat beyond their expertise and be dangerous to patients. The non-naturopath alternative providers believe licensure will squeeze them out of business. The Boulder Daily Camera ran this article —Naturopath licensing bill worries alternative healers— on Sunday which also discusses the proposed new law and the debate.

The statement in HB1173 that licensure is not currently required to practice naturopathic medicine in Colorado is incorrect. Despite the fact that hundreds if not thousands of naturopathic doctors and alternative providers treat patients in Colorado, none are legal. Under the current law, naturopaths and other alternative medicine providers who diagnose and treat patients for any illness, condition or disease (or use the title “doctor”) are technically practicing medicine without a license, and run the risk of legal action by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners and could face criminal charges. When I represented the Colorado medical board, we obtained injunctions against alternative providers, including naturopaths, nutritional advisers, oxygen providers and others who claimed to treat all sorts of maladies. Licensure would eliminate some, but not all of those actions. The new bill would essentially create a limited medical license for naturopaths, similar to that for nurses, chiropractors and podiatrists. While a regulatory scheme would create some safeguards for patients and legitimize the field, it would also create hurdles for providers who become licensed. Just as every other licensed health care provider in Colorado, licensed naturopath would face discipline for substandard care, boundary violations, substance abuse and exceeding the scope of their licensure. All of this may be moot, however, as every similar bills advanced by the naturopathic community over the past decade has been defeated. Nothing in the current legislative climate indicates a change from that history.

The House Health and Environment Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on March 1, 2011. HB 11-1173 can be viewed here.

Copyright Miller | Kabler, P.C., Attorneys-at-Law