Doors are opening that could allow practitioners of complementary therapies to enter the inner rooms of health care, but the operative word here is “could.” According to Janet Kahn, Ph.D., members of the massage profession oftentimes get in each others’ way and don’t take advantage of the opportunities right before them, leading Kahn to ask, “Are we going to go through those doors, or are we going to get left in the dust?”

Kahn made her comments July 19 in a keynote titled, “Massage in the Age of Health Care Transformation: Our Opportunities and Responsibilities” at the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education conference in St. Charles, Missouri. She is a massage therapist, research scientist, policy analyst and appointed member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.

Two of the doors of opportunity that Kahn discussed in her keynote were The Affordable Care Act, which includes a provision for including licensed practitioners of alternative and complementary therapies (CAM); and the military’s increasing use of CAM.

One section of the ACA Kahn talked about was section 2706, which states a group health plan shall not discriminate against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable state law. “Meaning, if you are paying physical therapists to do something and those things are within the scope of practice for massage therapists within [their] scope and certain people want to use massage therapists, you have to reimburse [the massage therapist],” Kahn explained.

She also said the Department of Defense is embracing CAM more than any other government entity, “because it works, [and] their employees have to be functioning well mentally and physically, so they have been looking at what can we give these people so they can go do their jobs— on the battlefields and also back home.”

Senate Bill 852, Kahn said, from the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, would increase access to complementary and alternative medicine and other approaches to wellness and preventive care.

Walking through the doorways of opportunity in order to take advantage of the rapidly approaching changes in health care will necessitate that massage therapists link arms and move forward together, Kahn said, which could be a challenge to the profession.

“We get in each others’ way as a profession,” she said. For example, “There are people really concerned [about working in the health care system], they don’t want to take insurance and have someone 20 miles away … tell them how many sessions they can do [on a client], and so they’re going to say we shouldn’t go there.

“I want to say, you shouldn’t go there if you don’t want to deal with those problems—[but] if you don’t want to do that, let’s figure out a way you don’t have to and I still can,” she added.

Another barrier to moving through the doorways of opportunity, Kahn said, is the lack of a clear, articulate voice in Washington representing therapeutic massage “and helping policymakers and the public underhand how we can fit into the new health care system in a an expanded way.”

She also told her audience, comprising massage therapy teachers and administrators, that lack of consistent massage training is problematic as well.

“[There is] concern by other health care providers and by health care administration that massage therapy training is too limited and does not guarantee a predictable product,” Kahn said. “Most disconcerting is the lack of understanding of common clinical language and protocols, and the diversity of training.”

—Karen Menehan

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