Bryan Caplan  

Ridiculous Regs the Median Voter Doesn't Want

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The median voter isn't to blame for everything wrong with the world. Check this out: In Maryland, it's illegal to massage a horse!

Mercedes took an eight-month equine massage course and hung up her shingle.

She said she so enjoyed massaging horses that she decided to do humans, too. She took a 600-hour course in human massage therapy and received certification. Her practice was evenly split between horses and humans. She charged the same for both: $85 for an hour-long massage, whether you have two legs or four.

And that's when the problems started. In February, Mercedes received a letter from the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners. The part that jumped out read: "YOU ARE TO IMMEDIATELY CEASE AND DESIST FROM THE PRACTICE OF MASSAGE OF HORSES AND ANY OTHER ANIMAL IN THE STATE OF MARYLAND."

It's tempting to say that someone's trying to put his competition out of business. But the real story seems to be subtly different:
I asked James Vallone of the Maryland Board of Chiropractic Examiners what the deal was. "The state law says that neither chiropractors nor massage therapists working under the scope of their licenses may work on anybody or anything but the human anatomy," he said. "You can't work on animals, period."
Why would a board in the pocket of chiropractors try to stop its members from branching out to other species? And what's the point in completely banning a service? Where's the money in it? All things considered, this seems more like regulators on a power trip than anything else.

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
John Jenkins writes:

Well, I guess that's a horse of a different color, now isn't it?

Alex J. writes:

Full time chiropractors are more likely to sit on the board (or otherwise influence it) than part time ones, no? All-or-nothing in the field is a barrier to entry that already-full-time practitioners don't have to cross.

Alex J. writes:

Besides, if horse massagers start rubbing down people, next thing you know, vets will be prescribing medicine to humans. From there it's a short leap to dangerous Chinese animal medicines poisoning our children. In America, we must support only the best health care.

John Fast writes:

"Regulators on a power trip" is always a likely guess, but a couple of other possibilities are an attempt by veterinarians to prevent competition from chiropractors, and an attempt by animal-rights activists to prevent animals from suffering physical injury from being treated by non-veterinarians.

Is there a possible article in here, if we dig up the actual truth of the matter?

Kevin T. Keith writes:

There are important facts missing in the news article, but enough is explained that you can dismiss a lot of the speculation given above.

It is perfectly legal to massage animals; there are certification and license processes for those who want to do so as a business. They are distinct from the licensing process for massaging humans, however. Ms. Clemens apparently went through separate training programs and was licensed to do both.

A quick Web search shows that there are more than a few people who have both kinds of licenses and who provide massage to both animals and humans. I would presume you have to make it clear exactly what your areas of expertise are in both cases, and to use only the appropriate techniques for each species.

There is no indication in the article just what it was Ms. Clemens was doing wrong, but there is a quote from the regulatory board member about the "scope of work" allowed under her license for human massage. If she was doing things to animals that are not allowed under an animal massage therapy license - perhaps things she had learned to do for humans - or if she was advertising herself as having expertise beyond that covered by such a license, she would certainly have been in violation of the regulations for that kind of therapy. If she was advertising her expertise as a human massage therapist to advance her animal business, that would also be a misuse of her (human therapy) license, and might be regarded as bringing that field into disrepute. The article doesn't make it clear she was doing that, but the quote about scope of practice at least suggests there was a problem of that sort.

The human massage therapy licensing board was probably over-reaching itself in ordering her to cease and desist all animal massage therapy, seeing as she apparently does have a license (from another board) to do that, but it doesn't seem unreasonable that they would order her not to exceed her legal scope of practice or misadvertise herself. Perhaps some kind of compromise is in order, but it's hardly the final descent into fascism for a professional licensing board to order its licensees to stay within the bounds of their licensed privileges.

John Jenkins writes:

"it's hardly the final descent into fascism for a professional licensing board to order its licensees to stay within the bounds of their licensed privileges."

Except insofar as one considers such licenses themselves objectionable as interference in commerce.

(Of course, until today, I had no idea there was such a thing as animal massage. People will indeed pay for anything).

Jason Malloy writes:

Massaging horses inflames the passions and makes a mockery of the biblical institution of heterosexual marriage, the only place where God smiles at "feel good touching".

Dr. T writes:

Dr. Caplan, you don't understand. Chiropracters believe (or claim) that they are medical practitioners using spine manipulation and massage to alter pressures on spinal nerve roots and cure many different diseases. One cannot practice medicine on a horse without being a veterinarian (since there is no chiropractic training for treating animals). Therefore, logically, the Board's cease-and-desist letter was appropriate.

However, if you believe that chiropractic treatment is just the most successful quackery invented, then this whole issue is absurd.

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