White House Announces Commission on Complementary
and Alternative Medicine Policy
May 2, 2000
President Clinton on March 7 signed an executive
order establishing a White House Commission on Complementary
and Alternative Medicine Policy. The order came just
weeks after Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) held a press conference
on the Navarro family's battle with the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) and introduced legislation to ensure
patients' access to the medical treatments--including
alternative treatments--of their choice. (See
Who Decides: The Parents or the FDA? )
Was the new commission established to pacify feisty
citizens--such as Thomas Navarro's parents--who are
demanding immediate access to alternative medicine?
Is it a stalling tactic to postpone doing anything about
patients' demands for access to treatments not approved
by the FDA?
A stalling technique is commonly used when politicians
don't want to handle "hot" issues. In effect, that is
what happened with Medicare. In 1997, the White House
and Congress couldn't agree on the best way to reform
Medicare so they created a commission. The Medicare
commission spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers'
dollars but couldn't reach a consensus.
At the same time, Congress and the White House approved
a law that restricted seniors' freedom to pay privately
for health services covered by Medicare. This was a
historic restriction on seniors' freedom. The public,
however, was told that the Medicare Commission would
reform the program.
Don't Take the Bait
Americans who have been pushing for greater access to
alternative medicine might see the establishment of the
new White House commission as a positive sign. But don't
take the bait. The commission will most likely do what
others have done in the past: restrict--not improve--Americans'
access to alternative medicine. For example, the new commission
will study and make recommendations about the education
and training of alternative practitioners. A similar procedure
was used to wipe out homeopathic medical schools at the
turn of the twentieth century.
In a 1995 Cato Policy Analysis titled The Medical
Monopoly: Protecting Consumers or Limiting Competition,
Sue Blevins explained how at the turn of the last century,
the Flexner Report significantly affected alternative
providers: "Within 10 years after the Flexner report,
approximately 130 laws were passed regulating at least
14 health-related occupations. Some non-traditional
specialties were virtually wiped out. Take homeopathy,
for example. By the end of the 19th century, an estimated
15 percent of physicians practiced homeopathy, the use
of natural remedies to stimulate the body's natural
healing responses. There were 22 homeopathic medical
schools and over 100 homeopathic hospitals in the United
States. . .[However,] the new rating system for medical
schools was influential in eliminating homeopathic colleges
She continued, "It is commonly thought that homeopathy
disappeared because of its poor quality of education.
But history shows that physicians graduating from two
of the last homeopathic colleges--Hahnemann Medical
College and New York Homeopathic College--passed [state
medical licensing] examinations at a rate comparable
to physicians from schools that were maintained."
Why are today's alternative health care practitioners
desperately trying to get organized medicine to validate
their treatments? Because in many instances that is
the only way they can legally practice and the only
way patients can legally use their services.
Focus on Freedom
Americans have a better option. They can demand the freedom
to use the treatments--approved or unapproved--of their
choice without validation from organized medicine or government.
Obviously, nonpolitical, scientific research is very important
and can help validate--or invalidate--various medical
treatments. But just because a treatment hasn't been approved
by organized medicine or government doesn't mean that
informed citizens shouldn't be allowed to use it. We don't
limit Americans' religious freedom to government-approved
denominations. We shouldn't limit their health freedom
to government-approved medicine either.
The Cato Policy Analysis titled "The Medical
Monopoly: Protecting Consumers or Limiting Competition?" can be viewed at http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-246.html.
You can order a copy from the Cato Institute at (202)
This article was originally published in the March/April
2000 issue of Health