I'm unexpectedly marginally optimistic about one thing in this legislative session. Marginally.
Maybe, just maybe, the Legislature will adjourn without coming up with new ways to increase the cost of health care. Or make it harder to get into an occupation.
Allow me to explain: For the last 10 years, state lawmakers have all too eagerly agreed to create new barriers to enter certain professions. Naturopathic medical practitioners, heating and air conditioning contractors, driver’s license instructors, midwives and, most recently, massage therapists—all of these professionals have been added to the long list of professions requiring a license and the blessing of a board to do business in Idaho.
On Thursday, another group approached the Legislature asking that its profession be licensed. Genetic counselors, who provide patients information about genetic conditions, family histories and potential for disease and reoccurrence, asked lawmakers to license their profession. They argued that licensure would protect the public from untrained individuals providing genetic counseling to the unsuspecting public.
Until this month, I didn't even know what a genetic counselor is, let alone that there is a micro movement under way to license the occupation. Typically, when a group asks lawmakers to license a profession, they act accordingly. The profession wants licensure, so legislators refrain from arguing with the request.
A couple of years ago, massage therapists managed a similar feat with lawmakers. They claimed great harm would befall Idahoans if illicit massages were allowed to take place. No one could claim Idaho's unregulated massage industry had left a trail of death and mayhem, and yet lawmakers agreed to license the industry. Some argued that it would help stop prostitution, which is interesting but certainly not true.
But the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee wasn't convinced this time regarding genetic counselors. For starters, the panel didn't like the idea that unlicensed genetic counseling would be a misdemeanor. Additionally, lawmakers had misgivings about the cost of a license, $1,000. By comparison, Delaware charges $165. California, $200. And Utah, $150.
Only 14 states require a special license for this profession, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and the Senate committee voted 5-4 to keep Idaho from becoming the 15th. But I suspect the genetic counselors will return, and eventually, they'll get what they're after.
Occupational licensure is sold as a way to protect the public from some great harm, even when none exists. Such legislation does protect, but only the industry that seeks the license. Genetic counselors don't like that others perform the same work they do. So they find a way to qualify entry into their marketplace. Requiring people to be licensed keeps the competition out.
Does a licensing requirement lower the cost of medicine? Does it make insurance more affordable? Does it improve care?
During the Senate hearing, I heard nothing that would lead a person to believe that any improvement in the price or quality of medical care in the state of Idaho would improve thanks to another layer of licensure. And this time, at least, perhaps Idaho lawmakers didn't either.