On Government Lincensure and Regulation

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Position: Opposed

The balance between commonsense regulation and government overreach can be a difficult balancing act. There are diverse opinions about the right time for government to intervene in private affairs.

There are many different motivations behind various regulatory schemes. Some individuals or groups may be genuinely motivated by concern over a given dynamic in the marketplace and want to control it; others may dislike an activity based on moral grounds. A third category of motivation may be less noble: industry requests for regulation.

It is not uncommon for a legislator, in an effort to convince his or her fellow legislators of the need for regulation, that, “the industry itself has requested it.” This should be the first red flag. An industry’s representatives’ request for regulation almost always comes for the same reason: to gain special advantage, either in general, or more specifically over competitors.

First, if the regulation is deemed to be inevitable, industry players will jockey for position within the proposed statutes and regulations to gain advantage for themselves. This frenzy has been observed here in Colorado with efforts to reform telecom regulation. Each player wants the changes to favor them. Nationally, the actions of insurance companies as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) was being crafted was classic. They decided it may be inevitable and could be a revenue and profit boom if crafted to their benefit and to others’ detriment, so they got on board.

In a current example, for the 2013 session of the Colorado legislature, naturopathic doctors have once again come to the Capitol seeking to be regulated through professional licensure. (HB 13-1111; Regulate Naturopathic Doctors)

The argument offered for licensure of naturopathic doctors remains largely the same: protect the consumer. But does such licensing really protect the consumer? The single greatest protector of the consumer in the marketplace is the independent mind and judgment OF THAT CONSUMER. This is the meaning of caveat&emptor.&Not simply that bad people are going to get you, which typically isn’t true, but that you have a rational responsibility as a consumer to inform yourself and make good decisions.

According to Naturowatch.org: “In 2004 the Florida House of Representatives, Committee on Health Care, concluded that while there is evidence for support of licensure based on the existence of accredited training programs and licensure examinations, there is no documented evidence of substantial risk from not licensing naturopathic physicians. Moreover, there is potential risk from licensing naturopathic physicians and allowing them to provide a broad range of primary care services.”

Now, while it seems more logical to conclude that you&don’t&need licensure, if quality training programs already exist, the second half makes the point, if unwittingly, that licensure also lulls consumers into assuming that the practitioners in the regulated profession are somehow automatically of higher quality. This violates the important principle of caveat&emptor by lulling consumers into a lower level of awareness in the marketplace, which puts them in danger.

There is also the assumption within licensure that government is somehow monitoring a professional’s behavior. This is completely untrue. Government regulation in no way, shape or form ensures quality. It may even allow some of lower quality to persist as the consumer “assumes” their quality is assured through regulation. It may also cause good practitioners to be harmed through punitive processes.

Perversely, medical doctors typically want to keep naturopaths unlicensed as they understand their licensed monopoly status as physicians provides them with an artificial, highly profitable advantage in the market place. This underscores that shared goal on the part of naturopathic doctors. It’s been observed that, “government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” This may be a version of trying to pick a new set of winners.

While those inclined to value freedom and the free market will not be supportive of HB 1111, there is a clear argument for those more welcoming to extensive business regulation to oppose it as well. Licensure of naturopaths will not protect the consumer. It will, however, give those practitioners artificial protection and subsidies compliments of the government, while simultaneously putting the consumer at risk, and should be rejected.