"Nothing is more important to the health of Americans than freedom of access to the healthcare of [their] individual choice."—Norman Shealy, MD, PhD, founding president, American Holistic Medical Association.
"Healthcare providers need to use every tool available to give the patient choices in their healthcare, whether traditional or alternative care."—Doug Huseby, owner/CEO, Becker Furniture World.
"Health freedom is your investment for life!"—Michael Myers, former CEO of the Mayo Clinic
by Judy Steele
AS LONG-TIME Twin Cities WELLNESS readers know, Gov. Ventura signed the Complementary and Alternative Healthcare Freedom of Access bill into Minnesota law in May 2000. The new law, which took effect July 1, 2001, provides consumers with freedom of access to the healthcare modalities of their choice, and gives unlicensed healthcare practitioners—such as naturopaths, massage therapists, herbalists, and other natural healthcare workers—the legal right to practice. This landmark event occurred as a result of a three-year intensive effort on the part of Minnesota grassroots visionaries, organizers, and lobbyists mobilized by prosecution of prominent holistic-health practitioners in the 1990s.
So are the people who created this effort, and worked so hard to achieve it (on an unpaid or minimally-paid basis), taking a well-earned rest these days? Not at all! In addition to participating in the continuing efforts of the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project on behalf of Minnesota, three of the original Minnesota founders are participating with other national leaders in a two-pronged national effort composed of the National Health Freedom Coalition (NHFC), an educational group, and National Health Freedom Action (NHFA), whose purpose is to influence policy. A national website is up (www.nationalhealthfreedom.org) and offers both information and opportunities to join and support these leaders in their efforts on behalf of all healthcare consumers.
Diane Miller, grassroots visionary and legal mind behind the Minnesota efforts, is executive director and a founder of both organizations. Jerri Johnson, also a founder, and one of the major volunteer lobbyists working on the Minnesota legislation, is now chair of the board of NHFC and an NHFA board member. Leo Cashman, educator/activist/writer on health, non-toxic dentistry and health freedom and a major lobbyist on the Minnesota legislation, is also an NHFC board member. These three veterans have been joined by an impressive group of national board members, including Norm Shealy, a nationally-known medical doctor in the field of energy medicine and founder of the American Holistic Medical Association; Robert Calvert, founder/CEO of Massage Magazine and author of History of Massage; Michael Myers, former CEO of the Mayo Clinic, now teaching health economics, finance and law at the University of South Dakota Law School; Patricia Pfost, administrator of the Barbara Brennan Institute, seminar leader and consultant; William Lee Rand, Reiki teacher, author and publisher; Marylu Miller, homeopath and teacher, Bonita Yoder, JD, and others to be named soon.
Recently, WELLNESS interviewed Diane Miller and Jerri Johnson about their work.
Why do you continue to devote so much of your own time and energy to such a demanding project?
Jerri Johnson (JJ): The passion that drives me to do this work is that it breaks my heart to see people who are suffering from chronic illness and not getting better, and not aware that there are many other options they could be accessing that might help them. And a lot of people are sort of aware of some of the alternative healing arts, but know so little about them that they don't think of them as real options. And I feel what's behind people not being aware of their options is the fact that there have been these public policies and laws that have prohibited people from practicing the healing arts. As a result, many skilled people either haven't practiced them, or they are practicing them but they have not felt free to talk about them, to tell people what they have to offer, what their healing arts are like and what they can do. You don't see much information in the mainstream media about a lot of the things that are really beneficial.
The NHFA believes the core problem is that we need to change the laws. That will finally make it legal for people to offer these services. And then the access will open up, and the information will open up, and natural healthcare can really go forward in America, when finally it's legal for people to practice.
How is this national effort different from what was done in Minnesota?
JJ: In Minnesota the Natural Health Legal Reform Project passed a bill that addressed a big part of the problem, and that was a wonderful breakthrough. It was very exciting; it was groundbreaking, that they passed this legislation that enabled unlicensed practitioners of the healing arts to be able to legally practice.
Diane Miller (DM): We learned a lot of things during the Minnesota effort. One of the things we're sharing on the national level is how to make changes in laws in a healing manner-not geared towards conflicts. In Minnesota we decided we would not be conflict-oriented in our legislative approach, and this spirit has been adopted wholeheartedly by our national organizations.
On the national level, our work is not just about the unlicensed practitioner law; it is also for the licensed practitioners, and it's not just about practitioner law. We are really trying to address the large web of regulatory and public policy issues that impact access to the consumer, and that comes in a lot of different forms. We'll be looking at the limitations that the FDA has on products and devices when they're not causing any harm, and at the issues regarding our access to commerce and products on the national level. What we're really trying to do is to analyze and create new public policy for all healing options. The national group will try to keep abreast of everything in the healing world that creates blockages to access for consumers. We may not provide solutions to all of those problems, but we will try to work in alignment with all the existing national leaders to make change happen.
JJ: Just as in healthcare we talk about the body being able to heal itself, and that if we just open up the blockages to allow the energy to flow, our bodies can heal themselves, I think the same thing is true in our healthcare system in America. If we can open up the blockages to practice, we will also open up the blockages to access and growth in all the healing arts for all the people.
What are you doing right now on the national level?
DM: We've received calls from over 30 states regarding such matters as what's happening in other states regarding unlicensed practices. We've also consulted and given information to four states that have introduced legislation for unlicensed practitioners, and three states that are in the drafting process.
We have provided health freedom information to New York, and they have drafted a piece of legislation very similar to Minnesota except with some very important and progressive changes, and they are re-introducing that legislation in two weeks. The unique part about the New York legislation is that it will be the first unlicensed practitioner law to go forward in a state that already has massage licensure. California is in session right now; this week they passed SB577 on the Senate floor, 33-0, and they're expecting to go into the Assembly shortly. Their bill is a relatively short, two-page health freedom bill allowing unlicensed practitioners to practice in California.
Rhode Island is in process of passing a bill, and they're in their final committees. The conventional medical community there is supporting that bill. Iowa has begun drafting and considering legislation for the unlicensed practitioners, and New Jersey is almost completed with their drafting process. Maryland has just drafted a bill for licensed physicians to practice unconventional care, which we've been asked to give input on.
And we've also taken calls for private legal cases and tried to refer them to health-related attorneys. We've testified in Washington twice, at the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy hearings, and we've testified at the White House Commission hearing in Minnesota as well. We have created formal comments regarding health freedom for state legislatures and for the White House Commission. We have three drafting projects underway for model legislation for states to consider: They're for unlicensed practitioners, licensed practitioners, and naturopathic and natural medicine laws.
We've participated in consumer group discussions as educators, I've spoken to the holistic nurses' group, and I've given speeches at national conferences, universities, graduate schools, and law firms. We're acting as consultant on some media documentaries.
That's a tremendous amount of work! And I understand you all have been operating very much on your own time and money, for four or five years now. How can the community help in this important effort?
DM: The staff people working on the projects, and the board members, have all been working on a volunteer basis and have supported their work from their own funding sources. It's very important to find funding for a paid staff to ensure the longevity and success of the project.
One of the key things about the national is that the work we do requires legal analysis, public policy analysis, and grassroots educating, and so funding really is needed for professional services, such as lawyers, executive directors, grassroots educators, secretarial staff, answering phones, website management, and also creating publications that can be sent out to all the states that are calling us. So we really need helping hands in many avenues.
Volunteers could help us with fund-raising, and also with secretarial and administrative support staff. We also would welcome in-kind services, such as printing services, publication services, marketing, paper products, office products, and professional services. I want to mention that many practitioners have provided healing services on a volunteer basis for the Executive Director that have actually kept this thing alive!
JJ: We need funding and donations for both organizations. Both groups can be found through the portal page of our website, www.nationalhealthfreedom.org. Donations to the action organization can promote lobbying and legislative reform, but those donations are not tax deductible. Donations to the coalition are helping to promote change through public policy analysis, devising creative solutions and informing the public. Donations to that organization are deductible.
DM: Major donors can really contribute, and actually be the people who make this paradigm shift happen. If we can bring major resources to this project, the country will change overnight in terms of their access to healing. If we work together with the people who have the financial resources, and put those resources into the hands of staff and attorneys that really care about protecting consumer access, we'll have a great partnership.
JJ: The people who have the passion and the talent cannot do it without the financial resources. We need to work together to make this paradigm shift happen.
Asked why he considers this national effort important enough to support it as he does with his own time and effort, Norm Shealy responded, "Almost 30 years ago, Dr. John Knowles, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, stated that 80 percent of illnesses are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, when I founded the American Holistic Medical Association in 1978, a fellow neurosurgeon wrote in an editorial, 'We are too busy treating disease to try to prevent it.' Dr. Franz Inglefinger, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, wrote that 80 percent of illnesses are not treatable by modern medicine or are self-cured. He went on to say that 10 percent are miraculously cured, 9 percent are made worse, 'Thus, we wind up barely on the positive side of zero.' These facts have driven me for the past quarter century to study and use safe alternatives to drugs and surgery in the 85 percent of situations where conventional medicine is not appropriate. Unfortunately, in most states, many safe alternative practitioners are prosecuted. Nothing is more important to the health of Americans than freedom of access to the healthcare of [their] individual choice."
For more on the Minnesota law and its history, see Leo Cashman's stories under "Politics & Natural Health" in the May and June 2000 issues of WELLNESS at www.tcwellness.com.)
Judy Steele is a teacher, writer and practitioner specializing in alternative approaches to mental and emotional health, and in effective mind/body/spirit approaches to life and work in general. She also has broad experience as a business owner and a leader in national professional organizations, and as a consultant and management trainer for Fortune 100 companies. Website: www.schoolforliving.org. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 612-590-3193. (Minneapolis MN)
(This article was published in Twin Cities Wellness, March 2002.)