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Clark wants Chinese medicine under medicare

Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, June 22, 1999, Brian Morton.

B.C. would become the first province to regulate the traditional practices, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, energy control therapy and others. It is a 'valued health option,' the premier says.

Traditional Chinese medicine therapies are important health options that could eventually be covered by medicare, Premier Glen Clark said Monday.

The premier made the prediction after announcing that B.C. will become the first province to regulate the full range of Chinese medicine therapies -- including such treatments as acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, rehabilitation exercises, energy control therapy and some forms of exercise, such as shadow boxing, which includes tai chi.

A new governing body, to be called the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Practitioners of B.C. will also be established to oversee traditional Chinese medical practitioners, including acupuncturists.

The college is expected to set minimum standards of education among practitioners to ensure that patients are receiving the best treatment.

"By regulating traditional Chinese medicine, the provincial government recognizes it as an important and valued health option in our society," added Clark. "I am proud B.C. has taken this important step."

"I think [medicare coverage] is a logical progression once [we] recognize it as a legitimate form of medicine. The more emphasis we put on wellness, the more money we save in acute care."

Clark couldn't say when it could be included under medicare, only that such coverage would be predicated on, among other things, cost and public acceptance.

The government decision to regulate traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on recommendations made by the Health Professions council. Cabinet is expected to give final approval to the proposed ammendments following a three month consultation process, as required by the Health Professions Act.

Health Minister Penny Priddy, who was also on hand for the announcement in front of dozens of Chinese medicine providers, said the use of traditional Chinese medicine is growing throughout the province.

"This decision recognizes the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine and gives practitioners here the legal authority to do what has been done elsewhere for thousands of years.

"This is an excellent example of our commitment to providing a health-care system that incorporates the best health-care practices -- both old and new."

Mason Loh, past chair of the board of the United Chinese Community Enrichment Services Society (SUCCESS), called Monday's announcement far-sighted.

"Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years and is used by more than a billion people in China," Loh said. "I am also glad to see the government has taken the action necessary for acupuncturists to be licensed."

Loh will chair the college's new nine-member board of directors.

James Knights, president of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Association of B.C. called Monday's announcement a great boost.

"This is tremendous for the people of B.C. and for our profession. The government has recognized the importance of regulating the vast treasure house of [traditional Chinese medicine] as a health profession for the benefit of the public.

"This paves the way for an integration of TCM into mainstream health care so British Columbians can benefit from the two primary forms of health care that complement each other."

Knights said regulation means there will be better educational standards.

"Without regulation, it [is] just a loose form of professional associations. There have been problems identifying educational backgrounds in the past. This will set standards of practice, so everyone has a certain minimum standard."

Knights said the new regulatory body will likely mean higher costs for practitioners, which could be passed on to patients.

"But it shouldn't be high, because it would be spread out over a [large] number of patients."

Knights said he and other practitioners had initial concerns that regulating TCM might mean coming under the control of traditional medicine. He said Monday's announcement clears up those concerns.

Knights said TCM focuses on preventing disease. "We don't expect [medicare coverage] anytime soon, but it would be a money-saving issue.

"It's very focused on prevention. The more people you keep out of hospital, the more money you save."

Morris Van Andel, deputy registrar of the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons agreed that regulation is a good idea.

"The standards imposed on orthodox physicians are significant. I would hope those same high standards will apply."

Van Andel said the college has no position on whether traditional Chinese medicine should be covered by medicare.

"But as a taxpayer, I hope that money [would] be spent wisely.

"There's currently a fiscal crunch in health care. As a taxpayer, I hope I don't have to pay for shadow boxing."

Ministry of Health News Release

B.C. Government Approved TCM Practitioners and Acupuncturists Regulation on Dec 4, 2000

Ricardo Serrano, DAc, MH, ADS, Webmaster