The historic health care reform bill President Barack Obama signed into law in March will have little immediate direct effect on the natural products industry, but it opens the door to possibilities for the future, say industry officials. And because the law is new, questions about how it will be applied have yet to be answered.
“The health care reform bill…includes several provisions that address complementary and alternative medicine (known as CAM) and one focused on certain dietary supplements,” said Michael McGuffin, president of Silver Spring, Md.-based trade group American Herbal Products Association. “These details primarily serve to better incorporate alternative practitioners into the U.S. health care system.”
On the other hand, he said, “The law is going to require you to have insurance. It’s not going to require you to take ginseng or echinacea.”
Specifically, Title Four of the act “focuses on prevention of chronic disease and improving public health,” said Mike Green, vice president of government relations for the Washington, D.C.-base Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers. “Many of the components of a healthy lifestyle – eating well, exercise and proper nutrition (including supplementation) – are reflected in the provisions.”
Industry officials point to two sections that call for inclusion of complementary and alternative medicine practitioners such as acupuncturists, chiropractors and naturopaths.
Section 2706 prohibits discrimination “against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification” under state law. That could create opportunities for alternative medicine practitioners in states and insurance plans that don’t currently include them, McGuffin said.
Two other sections, 5101 and 3502, create a National Healthcare Workforce Commission and provide for “community health teams” that include “licensed complementary and alternative medicine practitioners.”
“Alternative practitioners are provided with some opportunities to participate in health care,” McGuffin said. “They carry our products. They recommend herbs and supplements. That will have a peripheral or secondary effect on supplements.”
“Greater inclusion of alternative practitioners in health care should open a pathway for increased acceptance of the dietary supplement products they provide.”
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the nonprofit American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas, said the new law, however, is unclear about “what extent herbal medicine and dietary supplements will be covered and reimbursed” – for example,such questions as what criteria will be used, what brands or specific herbs and supplements will be included and how they are be dispensed have yet to be addressed.
“If a practitioner dispenses (herbal medicine or supplements) directly from their office, is that automatically covered? But if they recommend that a patient go to a health food store or compounding pharmacy and buy this brand, is that covered?” Blumenthal said. “These are issues that still haven’t been worked out.”
Blumenthal said that representatives from complementary and alternative medicine as well as herbal medicine and dietary supplements will “be at the table” to offer their input on these questions.
Another provision with implications for the naturals industry is section 4206, which sets up a pilot program for “wellness plans” and includes grants for up to 10 community health centers in low-income areas focusing on nutrition counseling, exercise plans, alcohol and smoking cessation, stress management and dietary supplements whose health claims have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration such as vitamin D, calcium, folic acid, soy protein and fiber.
“The information that comes out of these pilot programs will be helpful in looking at the long-term usage and the prevention and wellness related to these healthy habits,” said CRN’s Greene.