Montana’s Struggle With Naturopathic Health Care Red Tape

Montana’s Struggle With Naturopathic Health Care Red Tape

"These rules were written before the internet and cell phones were widely adopted – it’s finally time to dust off the rule book and bring naturopathic health care regulations into the 21st century.”

“Montana has a long history with naturopathic health care, in Helena they have been part of the community for four decades now. I was fortunate enough to grow up benefiting from the care and attention to detail that naturopathic physicians provide.”

“What makes naturopathic doctors so different is how personalized the care is. They don’t just look at your current condition, they complete an entire medical history. Before creating a treatment plan they take the time to find out about their patient’s lifestyle choices, vitamin deficiencies, family history of illness and everything in between.”

“I think now more than ever the average person is realizing just how interconnected these things are – that’s something naturopathic physicians have been putting into practice for decades. They truly believe that people have the ability to optimize their own health, eat better, get exercise, get through chronic illness and address the underlying cause of disease.” 

“Conventional medicine is so famous for prescribing right away and just dealing with the symptoms and not really getting to the underlying causes. Naturopathic doctors on the other hand look at the whole body, they look to treat the underlying cause of the illness, not just the symptoms.”

“In a lot of ways naturopathic doctors act as an expert guide. The time they take with patients and the extensive knowledge they have allows them to create fully encompassing plans for dealing with everything from infertility to food allergies.”

“Right now is such a critical time in primary care. These naturopathic physicians are so needed in Montana, their clinics have never been busier. They have all brought on more staff, new doctors, more residents – all despite the extensive red tape that stands in their way of serving patients’ needs.”

“Licensure was established in the 1991 Montana Legislative Session, and quite unusually, they have not gone back and addressed most of the naturopathic regulations. The rules on prescribing are so long and confusing that big national distributors end up saying things like ‘wow, I’m looking at your administrative rules that outline your formulary, it’s pages long… I don’t have time for that, we’re not going to ship to you.’”

“Naturopathic physicians have significantly more training than a nurse practitioner does, yet nurse practitioners have full prescribing in Montana, while naturopathic doctors have arbitrary limitations because of an outdated 30 year-old regulation. Nurse practitioners play a vital role in increasing access to health care, largely because we allow them to practice at the full extent to which they are trained, the same logic should also apply to naturopathic physicians – neither should be arbitrarily limited by red tape.”

“Thirty years have now gone by and they have an impeccable safety record. They have a five times lower malpractice rate nationally. And now we have so many clinics relocating to the state and when they arrive in Montana they are in disbelief of the convoluted restrictions on licensed naturopathic physicians. I get calls all the time from doctors asking ‘Is this as unclear as it seems? How am I supposed to practice to the best of my ability and training when I have one hand tied behind my back?’”

“But these outdated rules aren’t just harming physicians, they are also harming patients. There is a rule in Montana limiting naturopathic doctors to prescribing “natural therapeutic substances,” meaning that if a patient for some reason can’t take the natural version they have to go to another doctor just to be prescribed the drug their primary care naturopathic physician recommends – even though the naturopathic doctor is qualified to prescribe that drug. This unnecessarily means patients will spend more money going to a second doctor because of an antiquated rule on the books.”

“The demand for naturopathic health care is at an all time high. There’s 10 new naturopathic doctors in the Flathead this year, bringing the total up there to 20 now. There were 20 naturopaths in Montana for nearly 20 years, now we’re up to 100 licensed physicians – that’s a 16% growth in the last year!”

“Montana has had a chronic shortage of physicians for years and part of the reason for this is the outdated regulations limiting their ability to have a fully functioning practice. Just imagine how many more naturopathic doctors would move to Montana if we streamlined our regulations to an easily understandable paragraph like Idaho has done. Reforming these rules could put a big dent in addressing our state’s chronic physician shortage.”

“It’s really encouraging that the Red Tape Relief Initiative is shining a spotlight on these outdated, 30 year old regulations. Montanans shouldn’t have to pay the price for outdated rules. These rules were written before the internet and cell phones were widely adopted – it’s finally time to dust off the rule book and bring naturopathic health care regulations into the 21st century.”

Ingrid Lovitt
Executive Director
Montana Association of Naturopathic Physicians

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