New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed SB 6666, a workers acupuncture treatment bill that passed both the state senate and assembly. The bill included provisions for implementing acupuncture in the state’s workers compensation system. The bill would have allowed licensed acupuncturists to provide acupuncture treatments to injured workers.

Gov. Cuomo has effectively denied injured workers the right to receive acupuncture treatment for pain and suffering due to industrial related injuries. This stance is fundamentally in opposition to an individual’s right to choose their own licensed medical practitioner. This also blocks medical doctors from making referrals to licensed acupuncturists.

The bill required acupuncturists to submit an application for inclusion in the workers compensation system and to pay a fee. In addition, a committee would have been created, which would be responsible for approving all applications and overseeing implementation of the fees. The bill notes that the committee was to include “two licensed acupuncturists, and one duly licensed physician of the state of New York.”

The bill was introduced by Sen. George Amedore, R-Albany (46th district), and was cosponsored by Sen. Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx (32nd district). The bill included stringent oversight and reporting requirements for all licensed acupuncturists providing acupuncture to injured workers. Looking at the finer notes of the bill, the word chairman was removed from existing worker’s compensation law and would have been replaced with the term chairperson.

Standard protections were included in the bill. Section 2c provided for acupuncturists to maintain records of the patient’s condition. Section 1 ensured that all acupuncturists providing medical services were licensed and registered in New York. Section 4 included stringent reporting requirements, including the requirement for reporting within 48 hours to the employer and the committee that a treatment has been rendered. In addition, follow-up reports were required, at the very minimum, of every three weeks.

The governor’s veto ends the process. This is a repeat performance for the governor; he did the same thing to similar bills in 2014 and 2013. In the NY State Assembly, the floor vote was 120 yea and only 23 nay. Out of the 23 that voted nay, only two assemblypersons were in the democratic party. The governor vetoed a bill that had strong bipartisan support and was strongly favored by his own party. The governor’s veto demonstrates that he does not support access to healthcare vis-à-vis acupuncture services.

The governor’s veto will prevent injured workers from receiving acupuncture, including access to care for back pain. This is in contrast to the American College of Physicians formal recommendation of acupuncture for the treatment of back pain. Published in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine, clinical guidelines were developed by the American College of Physicians (ACP) to present recommendations based on evidence.

Citing quality evidence in modern research, the ACP notes that nonpharmacologic treatment with acupuncture for the treatment of chronic low back pain is recommended. The official grade by the ACP is a “strong recommendation.” [1] Given the opioid crisis in New York and throughout the United States, the governor’s decision blocks the use of an effective nonpharmacologic treatment modality, subverting an opportunity to provide pain relief alternatives.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York) and University of York (United Kingdom) researchers note “We have provided the most robust evidence from high-quality trials on acupuncture for chronic pain. The synthesis of high-quality IPD found that acupuncture was more effective than both usual care and sham acupuncture. Acupuncture is one of the more clinically effective physical therapies for osteoarthritis and is also cost-effective if only high-quality trials are analysed.” [2] The cost-effective findings demonstrate that the governor’s veto is fiscally irresponsible.

New York has a quality history of integrative medicine, including acupuncture. The first outpatient integrative medicine clinic was established at Beth Israel Hospital (New York) in 2000. A teaching hospital, the doctors created a post-graduate fellowship training program for licensed acupuncturists. The fellows worked two four-hour shifts per week for a period of one year. This established an acupuncture outpatient safety record for the hospital.

New York’s acupuncture history includes its sports teams. When pitcher A.J. Burnett was signing with the New York Yankees, general manager Brian Cashman sweetened the deal by promising to sign a team acupuncturist per Burnett’s request. Burnett noted of acupuncture, “There’s no doubt in my mind that I think it’s helped… I found that I responded really well to the acupuncture….”

 

Referenes
[1] Qaseem, Amir, Timothy J. Wilt, Robert M. McLean, and Mary Ann Forciea. “Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of PhysiciansNoninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain.” Annals of Internal Medicine (2017).

[2] MacPherson, H., A. Vickers, M. Bland, D. Torgerson, M. Corbett, E. Spackman, P. Saramago et al. “Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research.” (2017).

 

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