House panel waters down naturopath mandate

The New Hampshire House Commerce Committee Tuesday backed away from requiring health insurers to cover patients using naturopath doctors as primary care physicians in the small group market.Instead, the requirement will be limited to the individual market, where people already had the option to use a naturopath, since consumers in that market pay a percentage of the cost of each visit, unlike an HMO-type system in which a physician acts as a gatekeeper to prevent the over-utilization of specialists.The reversal came a week after the Republican-controlled committee passed a mandate by a 10-6 vote, after considering a bill that would do away with all mandates passed over the last four years — a bill that appears destined to be sent to interim study).Committee Chair Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, said insurers are upset because under current contracts, physicians are supposed to be able to refer patients to a specialist, not naturopaths.Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, argued that it was good public policy not to discriminate. Besides, she said, naturopaths are less likely to refer patients to specialists, meaning lower costs.And since the cost problem is in the group market, “where was the real benefit” of putting the “shall” in the individual market, she asked.But Schlachman lost her Republican allies from a week earlier, when they championed the idea of increasing competition in the health care market.Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry said he had hoped that insurers would go in this direction, adding that the legislation had been intended to “send the message” to do so.Manuse also said he got the message that the measure would go down in the defeat in the House, and the compromise would at least nudge insurers toward covering the use of naturopaths.The committee voted to reconsider the bill, passed the new amendment, 15-1, with only Kenneth Gidge, D-Nashua, voting against. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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