American Alliance of Acupuncture Convention Closing Ceremony, Rep. Judy Chu.
Hello! I’m so excited to see so many of you, from all around the United States, here in Washington D.C.to advocate on behalf of acupuncture! It’s truly inspiring to see people from so many different backgrounds and from so many parts of the country using their time to come to the capital to speak to their representatives and talk about why we should be expanding access to acupuncture for all patients. I especially want to thank my good friend, Michelle Lau, for all of her efforts to put this conference together!
I’m especially excited to have you all here to support my bill, H.R. 1182, the Acupuncture for Our Heroes Act. This bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system to cover acupuncture for all veterans who want access to it. regardless of where they live. We specifically chose to focus on the veteran population, because in Congress, there is great bipartisan support for the veteran community. And once a benefit, like acupuncture, is approved for veterans. it is easier to expand that benefit to other populations, like seniors. So to move a bill like the Acupuncture for Our Heroes Act forward would truly be a great victory.
And it’s an especially exciting time to be here. because Democrats have just retaken the House! One of my primary goals this Congress is to request that the Committee on Veterans Affairs. which oversees veterans healthcare issues and is chaired by Congressmember Mark Takano of Riverside, California. hold a hearing on how alternative therapies like acupuncture can help veterans. In Congress, there are many steps for a bill to become a law. First, the bill must be introduced, which we’ve done! Second, the bill must gain cosponsors, which means other members of Congress sign on in support of the bill and its policies. That is where you will come in when you meet with your Representatives and ask for their support on this bill. Next, the bill must be considered in a Committee Hearing, where members of both parties can discuss the bill, ask questions, and make suggestions. Next, the bill is voted on in the Committee in what is called a markup. Members of Congress can make changes to the bill, and then decide if they want to support the policy or not. After a bill has been successfully voted out of committee, it comes to a vote on the Floor of the House, where all members of Congress are able to debate the bill, offer amendments, and vote on the policy. Once that is done, the bill is referred to the Senate. and the whole process begins again.
So there is a long process ahead of us. but I’m excited because I know that if anyone can do it, it’s the acupuncturists. And I know this because, like so many of you, I know just how far we’ve come. because I have been working on this issue for years, since my time in the California General Assembly. Back then, we were fighting to have acupuncture recognized as a legitimate field. So hundreds of acupuncturists came to Sacramento to work with me on three great battles.
The first battle came because of acupuncturists’ concerns that graduates of programs were not properly trained. In Asia, it takes 5,000 hours to training to be an acupuncturists, but at the time in California, it took only 2,348 hours. As a member of the State Assembly, I sponsored a bill to raise the number of hours of training needed to become a certified acupuncturist in the state of California. This bill ensured that all acupuncturists in California would have the best and most thorough training, in order to provide their patients with the best possible care.
Our second battle was when workers’ compensation reform was negotiated in the California State Legislature, but acupuncture was left out! I sponsored a bill that required that the California Department of Workers Compensation to cover acupuncture. And I will never forget. as we brought the bill before the Assembly committee, acupuncturists packing the committee room, and acupuncture patients giving moving testimonies of how this treatment helped them. Because of these advocates’ efforts, the bill passed, and acupuncture is back in workers compensation in California!
The third battle came when acupuncturists reached out to me again when I was on the California Board of Equalization. They told me about how unfair it was to tax the herbal remedies acupuncturists dispensed. They asked — “Why is it that physicians do not have to apply sales tax to medicines or devices they dispense; nor pharmacists nor chiropractors, nor podiatrists? Why should acupuncturists be treated differently’?” This is why I asked the Board of Equalization to investigate this matter. They concluded that many of those products were herbs that should have been classified as foods in the first place, which are tax exempt. So now acupuncturists in California pay no sales taxes on the herbs that they dispense to patients.
So now, as a Member of Congress, I’m continuing this fight on a national level. Like in California, our biggest challenge is convincing lawmakers that acupuncture is a legitimate method of treatment that should be available to patients. Our first fight came soon after the federal government began its implementation of health care reform. I wanted to ensure that acupuncture would be classified as an Essential Health Benefit. If it was classified as such, then acupuncture would have to be offered in all insurance plans sold on the federal exchange. I set up meetings throughout the state so that acupuncturists could meet with a representative from the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS representative heard about the great benefits of acupuncture – how it improves a patient’s quality of life and how it can lower overall health care costs.
This sparked the most incredible letter writing campaign I had ever seen! Your colleagues and many of you here today organized neighbors, friends. and relatives. Ultimately more than 25,000 letters from 44 states were written in support of acupuncture in mainstream healthcare! As a result, the federal government allowed states to determine whether acupuncture qualified as a covered treatment option in their own state-based exchanges. Another hard-won victory for acupuncture!
The success of this fight shows that we can make progress on the national level for acupuncture. And last year. we had yet another victory! I am a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over many healthcare programs, including Medicare. As Congress began considering policies to help combat our growing opioid addiction crisis, I worked with my colleague. Representative Jackie Walorski from Indiana on bipartisan legislation to promote access to acupuncture as an alternative to opioids. And having Congressmember Walorski as a partner was encouraging, because when two members of the committee come together to work on a bill impacting Medicare. it means that bill has a higher chance of passing. Together, we crafted H.R. 6110, the Dr. Todd Graham Pain Management, Treatment. and Recovery Act of 2018. This bill directs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to study barriers that Medicare patients face in accessing non-drug alternatives to opioids. including acupuncture.
Now, that bipartisan support worked, because our bill was passed by the House of Representative unanimously. in a major victory for acupuncture! And it was ultimately wrapped into H.R. 6, the opioid conference report that was signed into law by the President in the fall of 2018!
This was an enormous step forward for acupuncture. but there is still more work to do. As I mentioned before, for H.R. 1182, to move forward. I will need the help of acupuncturists once again. Tomorrow, when you come to capitol hill, let your representatives know how important acupuncture is. and how much it can help patients. Members pay close attention to requests that come from their constituents, so if you ask that they sign on to the bill, they will take it seriously.
So thank you for being here today, thank you for advocating on behalf of acupuncture, and I look forward to see you all at the Capitol tomorrow!