The new Integrative Health and Wellness Congressional Caucus will educate members of the U.S. Congress on how such therapies as massage, chiropractic, yoga and others can be effective for many people on their journey toward health and wellness.
The caucus will meet in Washington, DC for the first time in March.
“As we debate how we can further the health care system in the U.S., we must ensure that it is affordable and accessible to all—but also, we must ensure that it provides the best possible care available,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) told MASSAGE Magazine. “That means investing in evidence-based integrative care.”
Rep. Polis co-founded the caucus along with Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.).
MASSAGE Magazine spoke with Rep. Polis, as well as with Susan E. Haeger, the interim director of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC), and IHPC’s Chair Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP, to get details on the caucus and to find out how massage therapists can add their voices to the conversation.
How the Integrative Health Caucus Came To Be
The IHPC is a unified national policy and advocacy voice for integrative health and wellness, according to IHPC Interim Director Susan Haeger.
Last fall, members of IHPC met with representatives to help form the caucus, and the caucus was announced in October 2017 in a joint press release from the two congressmen.
At the March invitation-only meeting, the IHPC representatives will brief Reps. Polis and Coffman on the current state of integrative health care.
“It is not a formal meeting,” Haeger explained, “but it’s the members coming together on Capitol Hill, and we are very excited about that.”
Regarding what the caucus aims to accomplish at this first meeting, Wisneski said, “there are different things you can do with the caucus. One is you can have interested members of Congress who want to receive information. So there’s information dissemination.
“There are also congressional briefings,” he added. “At our first briefing in March we will be highlighting an introduction to integrative health as well as focusing on the integrative management of pain.”
At that meeting, staffers, congressmen and senators might attend, he said. “People come according to the interest, and there’s a lot of interest in this particular topic now.”
Fighting Opioid Abuse
One of the most pressing health concerns in the U.S. at the moment is the epidemic abuse of prescription opioids originally meant to treat chronic pain.
Professionals in the massage industry have long advocated for massage as an alternative to opioids as a treatment for chronic pain, which would ideally shrink the number of people given these potentially dangerous drugs.
Rep. Polis was very enthusiastic about this possibility.
“We must swiftly address the opioid epidemic,” he said. “Along with improving access to mental health services, drug abuse treatment, and prevention programs, we need to improve access to alternative pain relief options beyond addictive opioids.
“Medical marijuana, acupuncture, massage, and other alternative pain management therapies should be encouraged,” he added. “Patients need and deserve options.”
Massage therapists can contribute to the Integrative Health and Wellness Congressional Caucus by going to the IHPC’s Take Action Now page, where they can enter their zip code to urge their representatives to advance whole-person integrative health care.
“There’s a pre-populated letter than can be sent just as it is or which can be edited,” said Haeger. “We encourage everybody to get that out to their members.”
When asked if massage therapy, in particular, will be highlighted, Wisneski was very enthusiastic.
“Massage therapy has been recognized and is in the literature as an evidence-based approach to pain management,” he said. “Therefore, IHPC considers massage therapy to be an integral part of … the disciplines that we are promoting for this effort.
“We hope to develop a white paper for dissemination,” Wisneski said. “This is off the cuff and hasn’t been announced yet. This is all brand new.”
One of the presenters at the March meeting will be Bob Twillman, PhD, who is executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, Wisneski said, adding that much of the information slated to be presented to the caucus in March will come from the Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress that took place in October in San Diego, California, which was sponsored in part by IHPC and AIPM.
“The Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress was made up of representatives from 50 organizations, including the government, the Department of Defense, the Veterans’ Administration, Kaiser, Aetna and third-party payers, as well as integrative organizations,” Wisneski said.
“The summary will be finished soon and then courses will be developed,” he added. “There will be a lot of activity and movement into creating both education for the legislators, general public professions, and health care professionals—and again, massage therapy is considered to be an integral part of this discussion.”
About the Author
Phillip Weber is a San Diego-based writer and co-founder of The English Adept, a language-learning website where he blogs frequently. He writes news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Male Body Image: Massage Addresses Muscular and Emotional Tension” (June 2017, in print), “Massage Brings Peace to Torture Survivors’ Bodies & Minds” and “Massage Therapy Improves Quality of life for Frail Children.
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