The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

September 17, 2009 08:00 ET

The Fraser Institute: National Conference to Discuss Eliminating Licensing of Health Care Practitioners and Regulations for Natural Health Products

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Sept. 17, 2009) - Eliminating licensing of health care professionals, including physicians, and dumping a government agency that monitors natural health care products are two of the topics to be discussed at the upcoming Fraser Institute conference on complementary and alternative medicines.

The conference, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy in Canada: A Better Approach, will be held September 26 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver.

"The current system of licensing health care practitioners is a mix of different regulatory environments across the country that, in reality, has secured higher wages for health care providers and reduced the availability of health care to Canadians," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute director of health system performance studies.

"Canadians would be better served by having the licensing of health care practitioners replaced with voluntary certification, giving various competing organizations the opportunity to become certifying agencies."

Certification is similar to licensing in that an examination or other process is administered by an authority which attests a worker has achieved a certain level of skill, knowledge, and/or ability, and reserves a title for them to use. Unlike licensure, however, certification permits others to perform the same type of work a certified worker does.

The conference follows on the recently released Fraser Institute peer-reviewed study, Unnatural Regulation: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy in Canada, which found that as the use of alternative medicines and treatments has increased in Canada, government regulations are broadening in scope, based on the claim that additional regulation was needed for covering these products and therapies.

But Esmail says the additional regulation is not needed and has simply led to the creation of yet another costly federal bureaucracy.

"The argument that government needs to extensively regulate natural health products and medicines is not supported by the data," he said.

"The Natural Health Products Directorate within Health Canada was launched in 2004 but has yet to offer any evidence showing how its regulations have improved safety or provided Canadians with access to safe, effective, and high quality natural health products."

The study recommended abolishing the Natural Health Products Directorate and allowing independent groups such as the Canadian Standards Association or Non-prescription Drug Manufacturers Association verify the safety and quality of natural health products.

According to Health Canada, Canadian sales of natural health products were estimated to amount to about $4.3 billion and to number around 40,000 to 50,000 products in 2004. A 2006 survey on the use of complementary and alternative medicine found that more than one-half of Canadians had used at least one alternative therapy in the year prior to the survey, a four percentage-point increase over the rate of use in 1997. But reports of adverse events are rare and legislation already exists to protect Canadians from malicious or unsafe providers.

The fact that an increasing number of Canadians were using natural health products and complementary and alternative therapies before governments licensed these treatments indicates that consumers were comfortable even when there was little regulation. The available data on the health risks posed by natural health products and complementary and alternative medicine treatments support this perception, while opinion polls show the vast majority of consumers are well aware that there are potential dangers associated with all types of medication: prescription, over-the-counter, and natural/herbal. The evidence also indicates that the regulatory measures implemented to date have decreased Canadians' access to natural health products and complementary and alternative therapies, while imposing substantial costs.

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The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization with offices across North America and partnerships in more than 70 countries. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org.

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