The opinions in this post are mine alone, and do not represent any organizations or associations with which I am affiliated.
The profession is in trouble. And as of the October 26 NCCAOM/ASA Town Hall even our leaders admit it. That last bit is new. But what isn’t new — as far as those leaders are concerned, there is only one way to save the profession. It’s their way. And it depends upon working LAcs to shut up about our concerns, and do what they tell us to do.
My experience with the ASA in the Spring 2020 was yet another reminder of the profession’s dysfunctional patterns. I believed (despite previous experience) that a mainstream Acupuncture organization was willing to transparently explore the risks and the benefits of a proposed course of action – in this case, of becoming Medicare providers – with the thought that in so doing we could prepare to mitigate the risks, increase the likelihood of benefits, and build consensus on a course of action.
Instead, at the 11th hour, after 100’s of volunteer hours from a group of individuals invited to participate, almost every mention of “cons” disappeared. A slanted pro-inclusion document was released, followed by a poll designed to tilt pro-Medicare. Still, support for the fight was, and continues to be, tepid. And rather than address or acknowledge the legitimate concerns of working practitioners, what we get from the leadership is exhortation and pressure.
This is a repeated pattern.The organizations choose a direction: increase hours of training, add credentials, become doctors, increase insurance coverage, fight other professions. It’s our only hope. Practitioners who raise concerns are ignored, sidelined, or attacked. When the success we were promised doesn’t arrive, it’s our fault. The organizations may change, but the song remains the same.
A year ago I was privileged to have lunch with Mina Larsen and I made the following request —
The ASA and NCCAOM have decided that becoming Medicare Providers is the only way forward. I keep being told that I have nothing to worry about, that I’ll be able to opt out and continue to practice the way I do now. As a way to show working professionals that you have our backs, let’s pretend the language passes tomorrow, boom. Can the ASA and NCCAOM prepare a document, “So, We Won, What Next?” Lay it out for us. What, specifically, do we need to do to Opt Out? Is it a one time thing? Can I change my mind? How does opting out impact my patients? If I want to be a provider, how do I sign up? Do I need to make changes to my record keeping? Are there any accessibility issues regarding my office? If I make errors in billing am I in any greater legal risk? What are the profession’s plans for lobbying on an ongoing basis? Won’t we need to prepare to fight rate cuts? What’s the budget for that?
(I’ve been asking these questions for a decade!)
So far, crickets. There hasn’t been any effort to help us prepare for what happens on the other side of “success.” Just as we’ve been left to fight with the insurance companies and devote more time and money to training.
Other thoughts while listening on the 26th —
– Has anyone explored how many LAcs are likely to choose to participate in Medicare? What percentage of the 50 million Medicare beneficiaries Mr. Taromina mentioned will LAcs end up serving? If other professionals provide more of the acupuncture treatments, could it speed our demise as a relevant profession?
– Why hasn’t increased insurance coverage increased LAc satisfaction and practice success? Is it true that increased insurance coverage hasn’t impacted non-participating providers at all? (It isn’t true, but that’s what we were told at the time, and now we’re being told the same about Medicare.)
– Is there evidence showing that treatments from LAcs are more efficacious than acupuncture treatments provided by others?
– The presenters raved about a future in which, in a pediatric oncology setting (a weird example for a discussion about Medicare), LAcs would treat not just physical pain, but also the emotions and spirit of patients and their families. Are third party payers reimbursing for treatment of emotions and spirit? Do practitioners feel that the time and visit constraints of third party payers impacts ability to deliver deep, holistic, treatments?
– Mr. Taromina mentioned that the lack of unity in the profession resulted in missed opportunities when it came to Covid, the opioid crisis and the ACA. What’s a specific thing he thinks we could have done differently? (I mean, sure, working together, but for what specifically?)
– Mr. Taromina said that no one has come to the leadership with “better ideas” about helping the profession. Why have suggestions to revamp our educational and credentialing process to create a shorter and cheaper path to entering and remaining in the profession been ignored? (I raised these ideas years ago, and I’m not the only one.)
Was the presentation on the 26th too alarmist? No. It might not be alarmist enough – “the profession” is in trouble, there will be consequences for most of us, and the only “solution” under consideration by those in power won’t help.
It’s critical for regulated professions to have healthy organizations and institutions and I’ve devoted huge amounts of time and energy to supporting these groups. Facing, once again, their lack of learning from the past and their disregard for the actual lived experiences of working professionals is painful as hell.
I have no suggestions about what we do next. For me, it’s time for a healthy boundary. There’s no point in continuing conversation with those who refuse to hear. I’ll save my energy for the treatment room.
Good luck to us all.