Although Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) undergo virtually the same training as medical doctors, their services have hitherto not been covered by insurance companies in the state of New Hampshire. Two and a half years ago ND Bert Mathieson, frustrated by what struck him as “discrimination flat out,” got a sponsor for a bill that would change N.H. law. HB351 would require insurers in the state to reimburse naturopathic doctors, who emphasize illness prevention and lifestyle guidance rather than pharmaceutical or surgical procedures in their practice. Mathieson’s initial success — getting a sponsor — came after another ND’s failed attempt to work directly with insurance agencies 12 years ago, and the successive years of discontent among New Hampshire’s tight-knit Naturopathic community.
Today, naturopathy looks appealing to politicians for two reasons. First, states like New Hampshire are struggling with a shortage of primary care doctors — a service NDs are certified to perform. Second, about 75% of health care spending nation-wide goes to treating chronic diseases, particularly those caused by diet and stress, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. According to Laurilee Schonebeck, an ND who led efforts to pass a similar bill in VT, these are the very diseases naturapaths excel at treating and preventing.
The bill, as it was passed by the state Senate, would have required that both individual and group plans be covered for naturopathic services, so anyone with private insurance in New Hampshire who was interested in Naturopathic medicine would have access to it. That version of the bill didn’t make it out of Tuesday’s committee of conference. The new version, agreed upon by the committee of conference, no longer requires coverage for group plans – the kind of plans used by the overwhelming majority of N.H.’s privately insured residents. Now, only the 2.7% of N.H. residents with private individual insurance plans will have certain access to naturopathic care.
Although the adoption of the Senate’s bill was not expected to raise insurance premiums — in fact, studies of other states with similar legislation have shown significant health care savings — the exclusion of group plans was made because “serious concerns that mandating reimbursement for the group market will increase health insurance premiums for small businesses,” according to Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge who spoke to The Lobby on Tuesday.
A frustrated Bert Mathieson reacted: “you say mandate and everyone goes running for cove.” Mathieson continued, “I think there’s pressure from multiple fronts. I think people are trying to protect their turf medically — there are incredibly powerful lobbies; and I think there is pressure from insurance companies that for some reason just don’t even want to look at the data, they just react…. You know, any law is a mandate. It’s just a smokescreen.”
Naturopathic doctor and immediate past president of the NH Association of Naturopathic Doctors Jaclyn Chasse agreed, if less vehemently: “the compromise that was made is really unfortunate… since so much data demonstrates cost savings.”
The new version of the bill should pass votes in the House and Senate, and end up on Governor Lynch’s desk shortly.