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Naturopathic licensing and Medicare coverage should expand

Eliot Edwards, ND, FABNO,
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Healing is not something that comes from a prescription drug or even a supplement. It comes from living life in balance—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As naturopathic clinicians, we use herbal and nutritional supplements to nudge our patients toward optimal health. But, ultimately, they must choose to adopt a healthy lifestyle to get there.

Many people want their health care to center around living naturally and living well. A recent survey of older Americans found that 55 percent said they would consider seeking care from a naturopathic physician and 100 percent would likely visit a naturopathic physician if Medicare covered the cost. Yet naturopathic physicians are not currently eligible to participate in Medicare, which covers 52 million Americans age 65 or older.

The American Association of Naturopathic Providers (AANP) commissioned the survey of older Americans who live in states that license naturopathic providers. Access to qualified naturopathic physicians is quite limited in our country. Only 17 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands license naturopathic physicians. In the other 33 states, patients cannot get any type of insurance coverage to see a naturopathic physician. What’s more, naturopathic physicians in those states are restricted from practicing to the full scope of their training.

In the states that license naturopathic physicians, older Americans whose visits are covered under private insurance lose their coverage when they turn 65 and switch to Medicare. The AANP survey found that 75 percent of Medicare beneficiaries prefer that their doctor suggest natural therapies, such as improved diet or supplements, before prescribing drugs or performing surgery. However, for seniors, the lack of Medicare coverage can be a barrier to the kind of care they want.

Naturopathic medicine may offer safe, cost-saving accompaniments to conventional medicine. Naturopathic clinicians have expertise in providing health care that focuses on prevention and wellness, which I emphasized when I met with members of the Illinois General Assembly. Naturopathic clinicians who practice in Illinois, like me, are urging state legislators to allow licensure in our state. The legislators I met with seem to agree that naturopathic clinicians can make a positive impact on individual health and on the long-term cost of health care.

I believe that in time naturopathic physicians will be licensed in all states and access will be improved through insurance coverage. The number of students attending naturopathic medical schools is growing as more schools are accredited in the U.S.

The dedication and hard work of naturopathic physicians, along with consumer demand, will no doubt make the case to the Illinois General Assembly that naturopathic physicians need to be licensed in our state. At the same time, we need to push for changes to Medicare so seniors who want to visit a naturopathic physician can get the insurance coverage they deserve.

Learn more about naturopathic medicine at our hospitals.