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Home > Newsletters > May 2009 > Mississippi’s First Acupuncture Practice Act Signed by Governor Haley Barbour

Mississippi’s First Acupuncture Practice Act Signed by Governor Haley Barbour

Mississippi's First Acupuncture Practice ActOn March 26, 2009, Governor Haley Barbour signed into law HB 458, Mississippi’s initial licensure law for acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Mississippi is now the forty-fourth state to license and regulate the practice of acupuncture in the United States. This is the second year that the Mississippi Oriental Medicine Association (MOMA) has lobbied for licensure, and owes a great deal of gratitude to an amazing team of individuals and legislators that helped HB 458 bob and weave through the Capitol waters. Here is our story.

In July of 2007, just seven months after opening her clinic doors, Jerusha DeGroote Stephens, MSOM, LAc was issued a Cease and Desist from the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure (MSBML) for practicing medicine without a license. Since 2000, according to the MSBML Rules and Regulations, only physicians or dentists were legally allowed to practice acupuncture in Mississippi. This narrowly drawn rule disregarded any other form of acupuncture practitioner, greatly limiting access to acupuncture for the citizens of Mississippi, especially considering there are only a handful of doctors that practice acupuncture in the state. In an effort to pull together support for non-physician acupuncturists, Stephens founded the Mississippi Oriental Medicine Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to enacting fair and safe acupuncture laws in Mississippi.

In November of 2007, Betsy Smith, Deputy Director of the NCCAOM, put Stephens into contact with Ayres Haxton, an attorney from Natchez, MS, who is also a former legislator in the Mississippi House of Representatives. Haxton and Stephens began hitting the Capitol marble in January of 2008 with HB 724. As introduced in the House, HB 724 was a “dry run” that enabled MOMA to understand what the major sticking points were in the bill. After narrowly passing the House Committee for Public Health and Welfare, it was quickly squashed in the House Chamber on the last calendar day. MOMA decided that our next approach in 2009 would have to be a referral bill. In order for acupuncturists to establish their profession in Mississippi, MOMA would have to work with the spirit of compromise and usher in a bill that required referral from a medical doctor.

As 2008 passed by, Jerusha DeGroote Stephens and Dennis Holmes, two of only three NCCAOM certified practitioners in the state of Mississippi, worked at fundraising and awareness for acupuncture. On weekends, Holmes would set up an informational booth at our local health food store, and would teach Tai Chi to the public for a small donation. Stephens gathered together research material and assembled a tri-fold postcard brochure that was sent to all of the constituents in the state that had shown interest in helping this legislation in 2009, asking them to get involved and write to their legislators. This brochure, along with a letter from MOMA, went to every single Representative and Senator in the state of Mississippi just before Thanksgiving break. Although Stephens lives in the Jackson area, she commutes three hours to Memphis, Tennessee weekly to practice at the Acupuncture and Healing Arts Medical Group. This letter invited all 176 legislators (including the Lt. Governor and Governor) to come to Memphis for a free treatment with Stephens, in order to 1) aid them to more fully understand acupuncture and Oriental medicine 2) have a positive testimonial, and 3) to comprehend how much effort so many Mississippians, including practitioners, were going through in order to receive treatment from a licensed acupuncturist.

The 2009 Legislative Session began in early January. MOMA reserved the Capitol Rotunda on January 22 and set up a booth in an attempt to educate the public, as well as the legislators, about acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Several practitioners from out-of-state came to the aid of MOMA by coming to Jackson to help during Acupuncture Day at the Capitol. It was a success! Although it was not legal for our practitioners to give demonstrations (we asked permission from the MSBML to no avail), we were still able to hand out information and lure them to our booth with delicious muffins. Chairman of House Public Health and Welfare Committee, Representative Steve Holland (D-Plantersville), was kind enough to sponsor our bill. With the cool, calm and collected help of Representative Bryant W. Clark (D-Pickens), this bill had strong potential. Haxton’s former membership in the House of Representatives paved a smooth road for MOMA to really get in there and speak to legislators about HB 458. The Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) tried to block this bill in several different ways. Ultimately, because HB 458 utilized the NCCAOM exam as our minimum standard for eligibility for licensure, the MSMA did not have solid ground to stand on with their arguments. Their basic contention was with the funding. Originally, HB 458 would have created the State Board of Oriental Medicine, and would have cost the state. After several amendments, the MSBML agreed for the acupuncturists to have an Advisory Council that utilizes the fees for licensure to fund the administration of the Act.

After passage to the Senate, MOMA had another miraculous turn of events. John Dennery, contract lobbyist and retired restaurateur of the famous Dennery’s Restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi, came to our aid. For more than thirty years, Dennery’s Restaurant served members of the House and Senate, along with many national and international dignitaries. Stephens rejoiced on Dennery’s first day at the Capitol when he and the Lt. Governor shook hands on a first name basis. Although Dennery’s good reputation preceded him, it did not mean that the fight was over.

Another amazing stroke of luck brought Dr. Michael Albert onto the scene in support of HB 458. Dr. Albert, a board certified gerontologist of twenty years in the Jackson area, had been driving to Memphis every ten days to find personal relief in acupuncture and herbs at the Acupuncture and Healing Arts Medical Group where Stephens works.

After a few conversations with Stephens, Dr. Albert stepped up to help by testifying in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. Several supporters of MOMA were there to witness an hour and a half testimony from Jerusha DeGroote Stephens, LAc, Dennis Holmes, LAc, Dr. Michael Albert, and former patients speaking on behalf of HB 458. In opposition, the University of Mississippi Medical Center had two medical doctors that testified against this bill. In the end, it was evident the two doctors from UMMC were not familiar enough with the bill to be able to defend their stance and the Committee was won-over by the outpouring of public support for HB 458. Our sponsor in the Senate, Terry C. Burton (R-Newton), was a strong leader and a force to be reckoned with. A former radio host, Burton’s booming voice and matter-of-fact realism brought HB 458 to the forefront in the Senate Chamber where it passed unanimously. After Dennery swooped in to help, within the month, HB 458 was signed by Governor Haley Barbour. The following are some important points:

HB 458 creates the “Acupuncture Practice Act” and its purpose is to create licensing and regulation for non-physician acupuncturists in Mississippi. The scope of practice is described below:

  • "Techniques of acupuncture” includes acupuncture, moxibustion or heating modalities, cupping, magnets, ion pumping cords, electroacupuncture including electrodermal assessment, application of cold packs, dietary, nutritional and lifestyle counseling, manual therapy (Tui Na), massage, breathing and exercise techniques, the administration of any herb and nutritional supplement and meridian therapy.

All of the following shall apply to an acupuncture practitioner who is licensed to practice in Mississippi:

  • The practitioner shall perform the technique of acupuncture for a patient only if the patient has received a written referral or prescription for acupuncture from a physician. As specified in the referral or prescription, the acupuncturist shall provide reports to the physician on the patient's condition or progress in treatment and comply with the conditions or restrictions on the acupuncturist's course of treatment.

  • The practitioner shall perform the technique of acupuncture under the general supervision of the patient's referring or prescribing physician. General supervision does not require that the acupuncturist and physician practice in the same office.

  • Before treating a patient, the practitioner shall advise the patient that acupuncture is not a substitute for conventional medical diagnosis and treatment and shall obtain the informed consent of the patient.

There is hereby established the Mississippi Council of Advisors in Acupuncture to aid the State Board of Medical Licensure in administering the provisions of this act:

  • The council shall consist of three (3) persons appointed by the Executive Director of the State Medical Licensure Board to be selected from a list of six (6) nominees of the Mississippi Oriental Medicine Association. Members of the council shall either be acupuncture practitioners who are not medical, osteopathic or chiropractic doctors or surgeons, or medical doctors who are registered to practice acupuncture or qualify as an acupuncture practitioner. The initial members of the council shall be appointed by the Governor.

Before any applicant is eligible for qualification, he or she shall furnish satisfactory proof that he or she:

  • Is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States;

  • Has demonstrated proficiency in the English language;

  •  Is at least twenty-one (21) years of age;

  •  Is of good moral character;

  • Has completed a program of acupuncture and has received a certificate or diploma from an institute approved by the board, according to the provisions of this act;

  • Has completed a clinical internship training as approved by the board; and

  • Has received training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

    • The board may hold an examination at least once a year, and all applicants shall be notified in writing of the date and time of all examinations. The board may use a NCCAOM examination if it deems that national examination to be sufficient to qualify a practitioner for licensure in this state. In no case shall the state's own examination be less rigorous than the nationally recognized examination.

(Mississippi has no plans to utilize a state test. The NCCAOM acupuncture exam will be considered our benchmark test for eligibility.)

  • The board shall require each licensee to obtain and maintain an adequate amount of professional liability insurance and provide proof of that insurance to the board.

Compared to most states this legislation may seem very restrictive. However, there is no way that our profession would have been able to establish itself without the referral aspect in HB 458. The South has had difficulty in the past making changes and this is a real coup to have this initial licensure after just two years of lobbying efforts. It is considered lightning speed, according to most with legislative experience.

Mississippi only has three NCCAOM practitioners listed. This really goes to show that perseverance and determination make an enormous amount of difference. Stephens and Holmes shuffled their schedules to allow them to be present at the Capitol at least three days a week, in order to put a human face to this cause. No one involved in this process made any money working on this legislation. It is truly uplifting to know that passion and commitment to what is good and right prevailed. A big thank you goes out to the NCCAOM as well as the AAAOM for their continued support of HB 458.

For further questions on content of the bill, please refer to this link: http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/pdf/HB/0400-0499/HB0458SG.pdf. For any other information, feel free to contact Jerusha DeGroote Stephens, MSOM, LAc at (601) 850.0970 or email mississippiorientalmedicineassoc@yahoo.com.

This Month's Articles

May 2009
Volume 7, Number 5

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Mississippi’s First Acupuncture Practice Act Signed by Governor Haley Barbour

Pediatric Acupuncture Program Helps Children with Chronic Pain

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