An industry that long has gone unregulated in Colorado now will be licensed under a bill signed into law earlier this month. The Naturopathic Doctor Act sets up a licensing program that outlines specific educational and training requirements naturopathic practitioners must meet to call themselves naturopathic doctors.
Naturopathic doctors who now will qualify for the license say the law is a welcome regulation that legitimizes their practice, distinguishes their qualifications and underscores naturopathic medicine’s rising popularity. Licensure is a step toward naturopathic medicine becoming more of a mainstream option for health care, said Nancy Utter, a naturopathic doctor at Durango Natural Medicine.
“It’s about spreading the awareness that we’re out there, we’re really professional, we know how to keep people safe, and we know how to treat people,” Utter said. “If we have a licensure bill in place, it’s a step in the right direction to get (naturopathic medicine) to be more popular. It’s more of a choice that doesn’t feel like wacky alternative medicine but, ‘wow, this is a legitimate way of taking care of me.’”
Naturopaths focus on medical treatments and therapies that work with nature to restore patients’ health.
The law represents a growing trend toward licensing nationwide. Colorado will be the 18th state to implement licensing or regulation laws for naturopathic doctors, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Since the 1950s, the percent of U.S. workers who have jobs that require licenses has risen from 5 percent to about 30 percent, according to research by Morris M. Kleiner, a professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota who has written books and papers on the subject.
Occupational regulation has grown because it benefits those in the regulated industry and the government, Kleiner wrote.
“Members of an occupation benefit if they can increase the perception of quality and thus the demand for their services, while restricting supply simultaneously,” he wrote in a paper on the subject. “Government officials benefit from the electoral and monetary support of the regulated as well as the support of the general public, whose members think that regulation results in quality improvement, especially when it comes to reducing substandard services.”
Supporters of licensure for naturopathic doctors have been trying to make it a law for 20 years, said Louise Edwards, a naturopathic doctor who was one of the first to spearhead the licensing movement on a state level. Naturopathic practitioners who have a degree at an accredited institution and have completed the required clinical training should be distinguished from other practitioners without that training, Edwards said.
While the new licensure will be important, Edwards and Utter didn’t indicate it would change how they do business, though they both hoped it would help elevate naturopathic medicine as a more standard form of health care.
Practitioners who are uneasy about practicing without a license also will be able to rest easier, Edwards said.
And naturopathic doctors who didn’t want to practice in an unlicensed state may now choose to move to Colorado, said Rep. Joann Ginal, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“I’ve heard from other naturopathic doctors that the bill is going to bring more naturopathic doctors into the state,” Ginal said. “There are people who are highly trained and very intelligent, very educated and very professional who would like to practice here. This will allow those people to start a practice here, and it creates jobs when they create new offices.”
A potential influx of doctors will be especially beneficial to rural areas that tend to have fewer medical resources, especially primary-care doctors, said Sen. Linda Newell, who also co-sponsored the bill.
While licensing naturopathic doctors is unlikely to persuade insurance companies to start covering their treatments under typical insurance plans, the regulation could be a first step to proving that naturopathic medicine is a sound practice that should be covered, Newell said.
Sally Kweskin, a spokeswoman with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, said the company had not yet determined if the law will have any effect on its insurance offerings.
Meanwhile, the law’s opponents say the bill could have negative consequences for naturopathic practitioners and the medical industry as a whole.
The Colorado Medical Society argues that the bill allows “unqualified persons to practice several health-care professions, including medicine.”
The Colorado Coalition for Natural Health rose to oppose the law because it would force some practitioners to lose a title they have used for years to buy medicines and herbs. It also covers only a limited number of naturopathic practitioners, said Kim Sharples, the group’s vice president.
“I think a lot of people in our organization didn’t like (House Bill) 1111 because it was writing a law for 50 to 100 people,” Sharples said.
But that was the purpose of a companion bill to the Naturopathic Doctor Act that also passed in the Legislature, Newell said. Called the Colorado Natural Health Consumer Protection Act, the law establishes rules and regulations for all other unlicensed naturopathic practitioners in the state.