Florida Saves Acupuncture Physician Title

Mission Accomplished!
Florida Saves Acupuncture Physician Title

When previous bills intended to restrict the use of the words “physician” or “doctor” in professional titles were introduced in Florida, they gained little traction or support. What made Senate Bill 230 different was not its language or timing, but instead the legislative leadership backing the Bill. Unlike previous efforts, in 2024, Florida’s State Senate leadership shared that SB 230 was a cornerstone in their healthcare reform agenda. Sponsorship of SB 230 was entrusted to the Health Policy Committee chairperson in the Senate, and a medical doctor elected to the leadership of the State House of Representatives. This gave gravitas and political life to an issue that had previously been floundering.

The Senate and House versions of SB 230 essentially would have banned anyone but medical doctors and osteopathic physicians from using the words “physician” in their advertisements and daily interactions with patients. Exceptions were made for chiropractic physicians, who are authorized in their practice to identify themselves as chiropractic physicians; as well as dentists and podiatrists, whose specialty recognitions and licenses can include the terms doctor, physician, and surgeon.1

When the Senate version of the bill was filed on Feb 9, FSOMA’s lobbyist Corinne Mixon contacted the Senate Health Policy Chairperson’s office to meet and discuss an exception amendment for Acupuncture physicians. She was forcefully rejected and told that no such amendment would be allowed.

The path forward for SB 230 in the Senate was unchallenged and it was adopted in six weeks on March 15th.
Ms. Mixon had forewarned FSOMA in mid- February that the absence of support for an Acupuncture amendment in the Senate meant that FSOMA needed to mobilize a full-scale education and advocacy campaign directed at the Florida House of Representatives and, if needed, the Governor’s office. 
Fortunately, the companion bill in the House was delayed until April 3rd, giving FSOMA extra time to refine its strategy and talking points. The priorities were to (1) educate the profession about the issue, threat, and implications of the SB 230 (2) educate House legislators about the bill’s harmful effects, (3) secure a House sponsor for an Acupuncture amendment, (4) develop a concurrent strategy seeking support to defeat the bill in committee, if no amendment sponsor came forward, and (5) to seek a veto from Governor DeSantis should a final bill make it to his desk for signature.
Crisis mode at FSOMA is an all-hands-on-deck effort that requires the Board and Management team to execute an urgent, intensive campaign that will educate, motivate, and activate a large-scale response from the Florida profession directed toward legislators. FSOMA has been here before and history has taught its leadership the value of being prepared.
FSOMA has a very experienced Executive Director, Ellen Teeter, AP and a dedicated and talented Director of Communications, Natalia Morrison, L.Ac., A.P. They coordinate and deliver all messaging from the Board of Directors to the Association’s membership, to the Florida profession at- large, and to the schools, students, and vendors. The Association supports and invests in its Management team, because Ellen and Natalia are the face of the organization, and they have the greatest impact on how the Association collaborates with and supports the Florida profession.
FSOMA’s Board and Executive Committee has both seasoned and new volunteer directors who work together to help keep all efforts focused. With input from various committees, FSOMA’s leadership, lobbyists, and attorneys developed a strategy that was driven by clear messaging directed at 3 identified audiences (licensees, students, and legislators).
This is how FSOMA and Florida handles protecting and promoting the practice and profession. It requires infrastructure: The Management team is salaried to manage the data and systems needed for FSOMA to operate and communicate with the profession. It requires professional services: FSOMA maintains a least 1 full- time lobbyist and 2 law firms. Without passionate and experienced health care lobbyists and attorneys, it is near impossible to represent the interests of this profession. Lastly, it requires “individual commitment to a group effort.” – Vince Lombardi. Between March 15th and June 2nd, FSOMA partnered with the Florida Acupuncture Association (FAA) led by Dr. Tang, who provided additional input and resources needed to hire a second lobbyist for the remainder of the 2024 legislative session.FSOMA provided all members, licensees, and students contact lists with the names, email, and telephone info for every legislator seated on a committee of concern that would hear and vote on this Bill. Talking points were updated and provided weekly with new sample emails and template letters. Every member, licensee, student, and stakeholder were asked to call and/or email daily requesting that their Representative “Vote-No” on the Bill and to meet with FSOMA’s lobbyist to discuss our concerns. The barrage of communication was organized, on- message, and relentless.
This had a wildly positive effect and profound influence on legislators and their staff. Acupuncturists and their supporters scratched and clawed their way forward until everyone in Tallahassee knew there was a major defect with SB 230: it needed an amendment or exception for Acupuncture physicians. Legislators were hearing concerned messages from dozens and hundreds of Acupuncturists (small business owners/employers), patients (voting constituents) and students (future small business owners/employers) who live, work, and vote in their district: all in support of an amendment, a no-vote, or a veto from the Governor.
Part 1 of the strategy “sounding the alarm” getting the profession and students to hear the call to action was achieved with a combination of email and social media notices.
Part 2 was progressing effectively, and no legislator or staffer handling SB 230 could claim to unfamiliar with Acupuncturists’ position, concerns, and requests. 
Part 3 was achieved when Rep. Maria Woodson (D) sponsored an amendment in the final committee of concern: House Health & Human Services.
Dr. Anaya Palay, DAOM and Mina Larson, CEO NCCAOM presented and responded to questions from the committee. The record positively reflected that Florida’s efforts to educate legislators had been successful. They were well-informed about our issues and concerns. 
Despite best efforts, the amendment failed on a tie-vote (9-9) in the committee, but notably it achieved bipartisan support, including support from HHS Committee Chair Rep. Randy Fine (R), who spoke out against the bill citing that it was a “solution in search of a problem.” Legislators from across-the-isle shared personal stories of positive interactions and successful treatment outcomes with Acupuncturists. They supported the continued use of the professional title Acupuncture physician and dismissed the idea that the title could be misleading or deceptive. 
Although the amendment was not adopted, what had become clear is that the Bill itself was not popular among all key legislators and some had serious reservations about allowing the Senate leadership to put forth a bill that infringed on how certain non-MD professions could legally advertise and promote themselves and their private businesses. When the House version of SB 230 finally came to before the full.
Florida House of Representatives for a floor vote, there was a buzz in the air because a last-minute amendment filed by the House sponsor Rep. Dr. Massullo (R) to include Doctors of Optometry had been rejected by the Senate forcing the House to strip an exception for Optometrists titles out of the final version of the Bill. This only added to the drama and unpopularity of SB 230, but the Bill still passed 78/34 and was headed to Gov. DeSantis’ desk with Acupuncturists’ and Optometrists’ supporters fully advancing on the Governor asking for his VETO.
So, FSOMA unleashed Part 5 of the strategy, with the same intensity and more.
The Association went on an offensive campaign using email and social media again to ramp-up engaging with the membership, student, and patients to contact Gov. DeSantis’ office daily with information about the negative impact of this legislation and to request his VETO. This is when FSOMA’s greatest asset and strength came into full view. 
It wasn’t the seasoned leadership; and it wasn’t the experienced management. FSOMA’s greatest asset is the dedication and resilience of its individual members who collectively represent that percentage of the profession who want to understand and respond to challenges facing their practice in Florida. FSOMA is defined by its individual members who are committed to a group effort. When FSOMA called on its membership to generate 10,000 personal contacts with Governors’ office and staff weekly between May 5th and June 30th they responded. This involved everyone and anyone with a unique email address and phone number; and it employed Acupuncturists, staff, patients, students, teachers…simply every stakeholder possible.
Individual Acupuncturists reached out to advisors around the Governor asking them to share their concerns and support for the Acupuncture profession.
Ultimately, on June 2nd FSOMA received word from Corinne Mixon that the Governor had just vetoed SB 230. It’s a rare and precious moment when hard work is rewarded, and prayers are answered.
Lessons from Florida’s recent experience apply to every state’s professional society association,      all     licensed      practitioners, college  programs,        students,         patients, stakeholders,        and         supporters          of Acupuncture and East Asian traditional medicine.
These lessons are things that we already know to be true and constant, but somehow are not fully embraced by the profession. We know that no one leads alone. We know that many hands make light work. We know that although might is usually right, Acupuncturists can triumph when they are united, working together, and pooling their talents and resources.
The profession is a force for good in the world, but to compete and survive shoulder-to-shoulder among other health care professions we need all-hands-on- deck – all-the-time. To be successful in life and work, first you have to show-up and contribute…until it hurts. That’s when you know you have done all you can to protect and promote your interests and those of your patients and colleagues. Please join and support your State’s professional association. Every single Acupuncturist is important to present and the future of this profession.
David Bibbey AP
FSOMA Legislative Chair
President Emeritus
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