Oregon legislators are looking at an equal pay bill that would raise rates for naturopathic physicians.
Senate Bill 734 would require insurance policies to reimburse services provided by naturopathic providers at the same rate as licensed physicians. The bill would also restrict insurers from reducing physician reimbursement rates to meet the requirement.
During a hearing Wednesday in the Senate health care committee, lawmakers heard conflicting opinions of the bill.
Carrie Baldwin-Sayer, president of the Oregon Association of Naturopathic Physicians, argued that naturopathic doctors make an average of 40 percent less than medical doctors for the same services. And yet, she said, they have ample training and certifications to perform a good job.
“We basically have to take what insurance providers will give us,” she told the committee.
Emma Neiworth-Petshow, a recent naturopathy grad, said that many of her contemporaries leave Oregon to find work because the money is better elsewhere. She said for the amount of time she puts in she earns about $13 an hour on average, similar to what she made as an undergrad when she worked at a sandwich shop.
Marc Overbeck, the Oregon Health Authority’s primary care director, said there are more than 1,000 naturopathic physicians in the state, with most clustered in the Portland metro area. He said the agency is neutral on this bill,. But the state has included naturopathic doctors in state loan repayment programs, he said. And last month Oregon became the first state in the country to offer university scholarships for naturopathy.
Jeff Clark, legislative chair for the naturopathic association, brought documentation to the hearing which showed that in 2016 naturopathic physicians were reimbursed at varying rates among insurers. Compared to medical doctors, they received between 13 percent from HealthNet to 78 percent from Providence Health & Services for the same services.
“There is one reason why insurers do this to naturopathic physicians,” Clark said. “It’s because they can.”
In 2013, the Legislature passed another bill, House Bill 2902, that required insurers to reimburse nurse practitioners at the same rate as physicians for the same services in primary care and mental health.
But Jessica Adamson, Providence’s government relations director, said that unlike the 2013 law, the new bill is vague and isn’t narrowly tailored. While the 2013 bill explicitly pertained to primary care and mental health, the new proposal makes no such distinction.
Adamson also argued that insurers are allowed to vary rates of payment for each provider based on training, quality and other factors. She said this applies to all kinds of providers and is not discriminatory toward naturopathic physicians.
But Rep. John Lively, D-Springfield, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said the intent was for naturopathic doctors to be fairly reimbursed for services they are qualified to perform. Lively said a naturopathic physician saved his life years ago with a diagnosis medical doctors had been unable to make.
Committee Chair Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, another chief sponsor, said she hopes to move the bill out of committee and on to the Senate floor, but would first like proponents and opponents to reach a resolution.
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