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With stethoscopes and nature's remedies

Now licensed in California, naturopaths hope to win some respect.

January 17, 2005|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

Finally, the CMA does not believe that naturopathic doctors should be able to perform minor surgeries, deliver babies or prescribe drugs. (Though naturopathic doctors will have very limited prescription privileges under California law and will not be able to perform surgeries or deliver babies, they are permitted to do so in some other states.) "There was a concern that this was simply a first step toward getting other privileges," Lewin said.

While there have been studies of certain treatments, such as acupuncture, and the effectiveness of certain herbs, there have been few studies on the efficacy of naturopathic medicine as a healing system. Experts hope that the licensing of naturopaths in California will bring more research.

But for those who have chosen to use naturopathic doctors, no further tests are needed. The proof has come with personal experience. Mara Elizondo, 46, first started seeing Hangee-Bauer about five years ago for an array of symptoms. "I had problems with my gall bladder, uterine fibroids, chronic headaches, neck and shoulder pain," she recalled. "I had been to regular doctors over the years and felt I needed someone who would look at the whole picture."

Hangee-Bauer has treated Elizondo's head and neck pain with supplements and acupuncture, and her gall bladder by giving her Chinese herbs and helping to restrict her intake of cheese and other dietary fat. She underwent surgery for her fibroids, but Hangee-Bauer worked with her on strategies to prevent recurrence.

Most important, she says, is that Hangee-Bauer has taught her how to take more responsibility for her health. "I could have gone years ago and had my gall bladder removed," Elizondo said. "But I don't need to have my gall bladder out. I need to take care of myself."

Because insurance does not cover her visits to the naturopath, she cannot afford to see him as often as she would like. For now, visits to naturopathic doctors in California will not be covered by health insurance. Blue Cross of California said the company had "no plans at this time" to cover such visits, according to spokesman Michael Chee, and Blue Shield of California "just doesn't have enough information at this time to make a comment," said spokeswoman Elise Anderson.

That doesn't deter the hopes of naturopathic doctors who believe many in their profession will flock to California from nearby states to fill consumer demand.

"The amazing thing about this form of medicine," said Pizzorno, "is despite all the obstacles, paying out of pocket, so much negative media, this medicine stays alive in the culture, because it helps people."

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