Looking at the Legal Status of Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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Alternative and complementary medicine is a complex area, legally speaking. The issue becomes even more complicated when you’re seeking alternative or complementary treatments through an insurance provider or government healthcare program. Jurisdictions treat different types of alternative and complementary care differently, as well. Let’s look at the legal status of complementary and alternative medicine.

Insurance Coverage

Just because it has been used for generations to treat a condition does not mean you’ll be able to be reimbursed from your health insurer for the cost. Some complementary and alternative healthcare treatments are considered routinely reimbursable if the doctor recommends it, such as acupuncture and massage for back pain. Insurance providers sometimes encourage these treatments because it is cheaper and less legally risky than providing painkillers and muscle relaxants.

This means doulas aiding in home births can seek medical insurance reimbursement for their services if they are licensed medical professionals, as may many chiropractors carrying out physical therapy and treating conditions like back pain. The average herbalist or alternative care practitioner has trouble meeting these standards unless they hold a separate medical license. Conversely, patients harmed by alternative treatments can sue the practitioner for their medical bills and other damages. This means alternative treatment providers should have liability insurance just like doctors. If you’ve earned a health care law degree from Hofstra Law, you’ll find that these professionals are in desperate need of your advice.

Evidence Based Practice of Medicine

Complementary healthcare providers are finding that though a product is safe and legal to dispense, they can run into legal problems because they don’t meet evidence based medical treatment standards. Prescribing expensive herbs and alternative treatments can result in fraud charges if the patient considers it a waste of money. Prescribe a complementary medical treatment that causes harm to the patient, and you’re liable to be sued for medical malpractice and damages. Simply selling it can bring risks, too. For example, a woman was awarded more than seven million dollars after having a stroke while taking then-legal ephedra. Governments may sue alternative health product sellers for exaggerated or unproven claims as false claims and misleading advertising.

Interactions Between Modern and Complementary Medicine

In most locations, a medical professional following standard medical practices does not have to refer a patient to an alternative or complementary healthcare provider. They are obligated to ask if the patient is taking any homeopathic remedies, if only to minimize the odds of bad drug interactions. Doctors may not have any legal responsibility for negative effects if patients don’t disclose complimentary treatments they are using and then suffer the consequences. For example, a doctor may not be responsible for a bad interaction if the patient doesn’t tell them about the herbs or unusual supplements they are taking when asked. This is an area to be hashed out by experts with a health law degree and the courts.

Alternative medicine is still in a medico-legal grey area. Legislation is moving more in the full recognition of alternative treatments, however, medical practitioners still need to tread lightly since they still face the threat of legal action, especially when acting outside of standards set by evidence based care.