Most of the time when the media, or Hollywood, casts a light on massage, it seems to be a paraphrase of Rodney Dangerfield’s classic line, “We don’t get no respect.”

The latest hue and cry is over the upcoming new lifetime series, The Client List, in which Jennifer Love Hewitt is a massage therapist/prostitute who is of course just doing it because she needs the money to feed her kids. Last year it was that picture of a race car driver getting a massage from a skimpily dressed massage therapist, and the year before that it was The View. Last Halloween, I got ticked off about a costume that was labeled “Massage Therapist” and included a skimpy lingerie outfit and fishnet stockings. And always, always, the “massage parlor” busts make the news, while the therapists who work their fingers to the bone actually helping people rarely get on tv. While I hate these things as much as the next legitimate massage therapist, I do try to keep it in perspective. The same shelf in the costume store had a skimpy nurse outfit. There are tv shows portraying crooked cops…it doesn’t mean every cop is crooked, but it’s a stereotype that we’ve bought into, and it’s the same with  us. We’ve been trying to separate ourselves from the sex stereotype for many years, and my guess is we’ll have to continue to do so.

Worse to me than the way the media portrays us is the way our lawmakers stereotype us. Legislation is afoot in several places that just serves to hold us back as a profession. HB 2387/SB2249 in Tennessee, which I first reported on several weeks ago, will remove massage therapy from under the division of health-related boards and move it to the jurisdiction of the commerce and insurance division–the division that regulates “trades.” Bottom line, massage therapy would be a “trade,” not a “profession,” and insurance companies don’t pay tradespeople. They pay professional health care workers. That bill was referred to the Government Operations Committee on Jan. 13 and no further action has yet been taken.

A similar situation is happening in Florida with SB 1860. I just finished reading the latest analysis of this bill, which was updated 02/03/2012. Among other things, SB 1860 removes the right of massage therapists to bill for PIP insurance. The analysis states the following:

The Consumer Advocate’s report found rapid growth in the number of procedures billed from 2005 to 2010. The largest increases were found for “Massage, 15 minutes” and “Therapeutic Exercise, 15 minutes” which each increased by approximately 2.6 million units from 2005 to 2010.  Specifically, “Massage, 15 minutes” increased from approximately 1.42 million units in 2005 to approximately 4.05 million units in 2010, while therapeutic exercise increased from approximately 713,000 units in 2005 to 3.36 million units in 2010. These two procedures are now the two most commonly billed procedures in the PIP system.

The Consumer Advocate’s report also presented data on increases in the average charge per claimant by provider. Average charges by massage therapists saw the greatest increase, increasing from $2,887 in 2005 to $4,350 in 2010. The second largest increase was by acupuncturists, whose average charge increased from $2,754 in 2005 to $3,674 in 2010. In contrast, the average charge by an orthopedic surgeon only increased $126 from 2005-2010, billing on average the comparatively smaller figure of $2,810 in 2010. As of 2010, massage therapists and acupuncturists issue the largest average charges of any medical provider that bill within the PIP system.

This bill is really about fraud. Another part of the analysis states that the number of “staged” car accidents in FL doubled in a year’s time. People are milking the system. And while it’s nice to know that their favorite thing to milk it for is massage therapy, that’s really working against us here.

How do we get the respect we deserve? And do we really deserve it? Some of us think we do. Some of us want to advance massage therapy and integrate it into the full realm of mainstream health care. The way to accomplish that is by acting like health care providers, by becoming research literate and supporting the evidence-based practice of massage. It’s just my opinion that is the key to massage therapists earning respect. Others say if we want to be thought of as health care providers we should just become PTs instead. I don’t buy that. I think what we do is good enough to be considered in and of itself.

We can complain to Lifetime TV and The View when the situation arises, but it’s much more important to complain to our legislators. I’ve been preaching this sermon for years, and I’ll continue to preach it until I’m gone. If all the people who holler about stereotypes on television and write letters to Lifetime would write one to their lawmakers and insurance commissions, it would be a great thing.

And now for a shameless solicitation: The Massage Therapy Foundation is working to fund research in the massage therapy profession, to teach research literacy, and to advance the evidence supporting massage therapy as a vital part of health care. For Valentine’s Day, I am asking everyone to show some love and to donate $14 to the Massage Therapy Foundation. You can do that by clicking here.

Proposed Legislation Takes MTs Out of Insurance Loop

Florida SB 1860,  introduced on January 17 by Senator Negron, will remove the right of massage therapists and acupuncturists to bill PIP (Personal Injury Protection) insurance for those who have been injured in auto accidents. I don’t have any statistics regarding how many FL therapists currently file these types of claims, but based on my interactions on social networks, I would estimate that it’s quite a few. I suggest a mass protest is in order. You can find your legislators here. Contact them immediately and ask them not to support this bill.

In Tennessee, HB 2387/SB2249 seeks to remove the massage therapy board from under the auspices of the Department of Health Related Boards and move them to the Department of Commerce and Insurance. What this does is basically reclassify massage therapy from being a health profession to a “trade.” Insurance companies don’t pay tradespeople; they pay health care professionals.You can find your TN legislators here.

I cannot urge you enough to pay attention to this, no matter where you are. When something detrimental like this happens, it just paves the way for other states to follow the leader.

Even the acts of searching for, and reading legislation or proposed legislation, is a tricky thing. A prime example is that when you search for the bill in Tennessee, this is the description:

As introduced, decreases the size of the board of directors for the Duck River Development Agency from 17 to 12; authorizes the commissioner of environment and conservation to appoint an executive director to carry out the purposes of the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2005; revises other various provisions governing the structure of certain state agencies, committees, boards and commissions.

At first glance, people may see that and think, “Why do I care about the Duck River Development Agency?” It’s important to recognize that massage legislation is frequently slid into a proposed bill under some other name or description…legislation affecting massage therapists has been, and will continue to be, introduced as part of a highway bill, a farm bill, a utilities bill…bills are known by the prefix “HB” (for House Bill) and “SB” (for Senate Bill) followed by their number. They tend to get mentioned in the media as “the proposed highway bill” and since the part affecting massage therapists is usually hidden in the middle somewhere, it’s easy to go unnoticed, were it not for the diligence of the professional associations paying attention. While I am a member of both AMTA and ABMP and both have government relations representatives who monitor legislation and offer support or interference as they deem fit, I don’t always agree with them. They don’t always agree with each other. The thing to do is read any proposed bill and decide for yourself whether it’s worthy of protest.

Unrelated to insurance, but still of concern, is proposed legislative changes in Southern Nevada. Among other things, it contains the ridiculous mandate that a massage therapy room is required to be lit to “20 foot-candles”. For those who don’t know, a foot-candle is basically a one-foot diameter circle of light thrown out by the average candle. If your massage therapy room happens to be 10 x 10, you will be expected to have the same amount of illumination in the room you would have if you had 20 candles going. That is a 300% increase of what the Nevada Administrative Code currently requires. Just turn on the overhead light and get on with it. Very relaxing…NOT!  Apparently some legislators have too much time on their hands.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll offer it again: I urge you to pay attention to what’s going on in your own state–one of the best reasons to belong to a professional association. Their websites contain regular legislative updates. Any time detrimental legislation is on the horizon, I attempt to get the word out, and it never fails that in the month or two after something bad happening, I get a lot of calls and e-mails saying “What can we do?” You can’t do zip after it has happened. You must act to stop it before it’s passed.