- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Naturopaths in Maine are rallying behind a bill designed to prevent insurers from discriminating against health care providers who are licensed by the state.

Sen. Justin Chenette, a Saco Democrat, submitted the bill on behalf of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors. Patients in Maine are being denied access to the licensed health care providers of their choice, he said.

“This would provide network adequacy for naturopathic doctors,” Chenette said. “This just ensures more options for people.”

Naturopathy is an alternative medical system that focuses on treatments based around things like diet, herbs and vitamins instead of pharmaceuticals.

It’s a source of skepticism among proponents of conventional medicine, and proposals to grant its practitioners licensing and access to insurance coverage often cause controversy. Massachusetts approved creation of a licensing board for naturopaths earlier this year over protests from the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Some in the health insurance industry also fear the bill would cause health insurance premiums to increase. Community Health Options, a private non-profit insurance company headquartered in the state, testified against the bill during a public hearing in which it lodged a complaint that the measure “goes too far in mandating new coverages.”

Maine superintendent of insurance Eric Cioppa has also testified against the bill. He has said it would prohibit insurers from limiting the number of providers in their networks, and that would present a cost control issue.

Despite the skepticism, naturopathy is growing in popularity with patients. There are about 6,000 naturopaths in the country, up from just hundreds three decades ago.

“We need patients to have access to the health care that will best suit them, whether it’s for their annual exam or for alternative options to pain management,” said Anne Jacobs, a naturopath who lives in Newcastle and testified on behalf of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors.

The bill will go before the Legislature’s Committee on Insurance and Financial Services on Thursday. Chenette said he expects a vote on the measure.

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