traditional chinese medicine ontario

Acupuncture will no longer be covered by insurance if Ontario passes this controversial law

A recently-tabled legislative change that would effectively allow anyone in Ontario to perform traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or acupuncture without an official licence has prompted a flurry of worry, questions and objections aimed at the Ford government.

It all started on Monday, when the province announced a proposed piece of legislation called the Working for Workers Act, 2022 (aka Bill 88).

The omnibus bill includes amendments that would, among other things, force employers to disclose any electronic surveillance of employees, raise the minimum wage for gig workers (such as delivery people and rideshare drivers) to $15, and require some at-risk workplaces to keep nalaxone kits on site.

It also contains a change that the Ministry of Labour said in a press release would "reduce barriers in the provision of traditional Chinese medicine while ensuring consumer protection in the delivery of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture services."

Per language on the proposed bill itself, the passing of this legislation would mean repealing the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act of 2006.

"Legislation regulating the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) received Royal Assent on December 20, 2006 and specific sections of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act, 2006 are now law in Ontario," reads a description of that act on the Ministry of Health's website.

"Traditional Chinese medicine is a holistic system of health care that originated in China several thousand years ago. Therapies include acupuncture, herbal therapy, tuina massage, and therapeutic exercise. TCM views the body as a whole and addresses how illness manifests itself in a patient and assesses and treats the whole patient, not just the specific disorder."

As a result of the act passed in 2006, the province created a "new, self-financing College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario" with the mandate of "ensuring that the profession is regulated in the interest of the public."

That governing body (established in 2013) is currently one of 26 regulatory colleges in Ontario that oversee some 400,000 healthcare professionals across 29 distinct professions, including chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, pharmacists, nurses, physicians, massage therapists and registered psychotherapists.

Bill 88, if passed, would essentially knock TCM practitioners and acupuncturists down a peg in terms of how they're regulated, putting them on the same level as Personal Support Workers as opposed to physiotherapists, midwives, audiologists and everything else they're listed with here.

Critics are worried that deregulating traditional Chinese medicine could endanger patients by allowing unqualified people to enter the field and practise.

Some say that repealing the act is simply disrespectful, and that the move takes credence away from a type of healthcare service that many Canadians rely upon.

Of specific concern to patients is the fact that, should the TCM college be killed, treatments it used to regulate (like acupuncture) would no longer be covered by most insurance plans.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke to these concerns during a press conference in York Region on Thursday after being asked why his government wants to deregulate TCM, and also what concerns he might have about "opening [the profession] up for anyone to place a needle in someone's body."

Ford responded with his classic "we inherited a broken system" line, but then explained that his government's motivations were in fact driven (at least partially) by language requirements on licensing exams, which can only be taken in English.

"It really prevented anyone speaking Mandarin or Cantonese from really writing the exam and that... so we're trying to fix the problem we inherited," said Ford, noting that his government had heard from members of the TCM community all across Ontario and that he has "a strong relationship with the Chinese community."

Minster of Health Christine Elliott then took the podium and elaborated, backing up Ford's claim they wanted to help qualified, non-English speaking traditional Chinese medicine practitioners work in Ontario.

"What we're proposing to do is to transition the regulation from the College of Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioners to the health and supportive care providers authority of Ontario, and this is the same authority that regulates personal support workers as well, so we have confidence that they will do an effective job.

Acupuncture, said Elliott, would "continue to be monitored and regulated by the local public health agencies," whatever that means.

Ford's political opponents are all slamming the move, saying that it undermines the legitimacy of TCM and that is removes important protections for the public.

"This was a direct attack on the Asian community, and especially the Chinese community," said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in a statement about the move on Thursday.

"The failure of Doug Ford and his Conservatives to consult with these regulated professionals and their patients was disrespectful and wrong."

But this isn't simply about politics — patients, too, are reacting strongly to news of the change, and they're urging Ford's government to reconsider regulating TCM and acupuncture.

"This decision is terrible for not only practitioners, but for the general public. Acupuncture is an alternative medicine that not only involves onset practice, but also knowledge of anatomy and rationale behind every practice," reads a petition signed by nearly 30,000 people as of Friday afternoon.

"Traditional Chinese Medicine deserves higher regulation, more funding for research, because it has equal efficacy and safety as physiotherapy, chiropractic and naturopath, under good regulation."

The college itself is playing things cool, posting a statement on its website to share nothing but information about the proposed changes.

"The College was advised on February 28, 2022 that the Government of Ontario would be taking steps to wind down the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario," it reads.

"The Government anticipates that it will take approximately 18 months for the wind up. The expectation is that acupuncture will be returned to the public domain and that TCM practitioners and acupuncturists could choose to voluntarily seek to be registered under the Health and Supportive Care Provides Oversight Authority."

The college says it will continue to regulate its members until operations wind down.

"The College will continue to investigate members and accept complaints from the public. The statutory powers and responsibilities of the College will continue to ensure that members are regulated appropriately," reads the statement.

"The College will provide continuing updates once it receives further information and guidance from the government."

Lead photo by

Katherine Hanlon

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