On Government Licensure and Regulation

On Government Licensure and Regulation

by: former Colorado State Representative Don Beezley


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.

Photo used under creative commons license. Photographer: epSos .de. Minor modifications were made.