Safe Harbor Laws: Protecting the Public and the Healing Arts
What are the laws surrounding the practice of medicine and who gets to decide what these laws are?
Can unlicensed naturopaths, homeopaths, herbalists, and other natural medicine healers practice their medicine legally?
What specifically does the practice of medicine entail?
Most people probably don’t want their next-door neighbor to be able to perform general surgery if he or she doesn’t have the medical training and qualification to do so. Also, most people probably feel a certain element of trust when their practitioner has successfully completed an accredited medical school training. States have the responsibility to keep their people safe and this is why all states are tasked with the job to create laws surrounding licensing professions that they feel may pose a risk for the public. Many professions are not licensed in this country but when it comes to healthcare, all states have definitions in place as to what the practice of medicine is.
Defining the Practice of Medicine
For example, per Washington State law, the practice of medicine is defined as:
Someone who “offers or undertakes to diagnose, cure, advise, or prescribe for any human disease, ailment, injury, infirmity, deformity, pain or other condition, physical or mental, real or imaginary, by any means or instrumentality…” 1
Under this broad definition, something as simple as delivering your close friend chicken soup and elderberry syrup when they’re sick can be defined as practicing medicine! The chances that someone would get in trouble for this benign act are slim to none, but technically unless that person is a recognized licensed physician in that state, they could be charged with practicing medicine and face potential fines and criminal convictions.
In almost every state, the definition of practicing medicine is extremely broad. This is because state governments want licensed physicians to be able to practice medicine in whatever way they believe will benefit their patients the most without causing harm. This gives physicians great latitude in treating patients. No two physicians are alike and treatments between physicians’ range on the spectrum from invasive high-risk surgeries to low-risk motivational interviewing and dietary counseling. The problem with this broad definition is that in certain cases, traditional healers, homeopaths, herbalists, energy healers, and unlicensed naturopaths are caught in the cross-roads of being blamed and charged with practicing medicine without a license, even if they have specific training and credentials related to their field. Punishments for practicing without a license vary state by state, but in Maryland any individual who violates the law is guilty of a felony and on conviction, subjected to a fine between $10,000 – $50,000 and imprisonment of up to five years!2
An Interview with Dianne Miller
I sat down and interviewed Diane Miller who is an attorney and the Director of Law and Public Policy for the National Health Freedom Coalition and National Health Freedom Action. Her non-profit advises and assists individuals in passing Safe Harbor Laws in their states. Safe Harbor Laws ensure that alternative health care professions are legally able to practice their trade without being construed as practicing medicine without a license. Currently only 11 out of the 50 states have passed these laws and these states are: Oklahoma, Idaho, Minnesota, Rhode Island, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and Arizona (Arizona is limited to homeopaths only).
These laws vary depending on the state that passed them. Maine’s Safe Harbor Law passed in 2019 and the language of the bill states:
“A person who provides complementary or alternative health care services in accordance with this subchapter but who is not licensed, certified or registered in this State as a health care professional or practitioner under this Title does not violate any law relating to the licensing of health care professionals under this Title as long as the person complies with the requirements of this subchapter.” 3
The rest of this law lists prohibited acts a person providing alternative health care services must comply with (to not prescribe medications, perform surgery, perform chiropractic adjustments, etc.) and lists required disclosures they must post in their place of business explaining that they are not a licensed health care professional as recognized by the state. If the person is in compliance with these prohibited acts and required disclosures, they are able to practice their art of healing legally without fear of conviction.
You’ll learn more in the interview!
Watch the Interview
What is the National Health Freedom Action?
The National Health Freedom Action, the non-profit Diane Miller is apart of, provides free advice from practicing attorneys on how to pass Safe Harbor Laws in various states. They provide conference calls, presentations and travel, drafting, and testimonials and help guide individuals through the process of connecting with state legislatures and drafting and passing bills. Safe Harbor Laws protect the public by requiring certain disclosures and a list of prohibited acts alternative health providers must abide by. These specifications are needed to ensure that alternative health providers are not engaging in potentially harmful or deadly treatments. Safe Harbor Laws also allow the public access to alternative medicine. Without these bills, alternative practitioners can potentially face thousands of dollars in fines and felony convictions for practicing medicine without a license. This discourages alternative medicine providers from creating practices and thus stops the ability for an individual to seek out alternative therapies for their healthcare.
Our country is founded on the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Alternative health providers should have the right to practice their healing art as long as they abide by certain provisions and do not put others in harms way. Safe Harbor Laws ensure that we as the public have access to safe, alternative medicine and the freedom to choose our own healthcare.
How Can I Get involved?
To get involved in your state and connect with state groups who are actively trying to pass Safe Harbor Laws, visit www.nationalhealthfreedomaction.org.
- Washington RCW 18.71.011
- Maryland Code, Health Occupations 14-5F-29
- ME Title 32, Chapter 48