Health Freedom: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Health freedom is a concept based on the belief that medicine, as it is practiced in the United States, is a narrowly defined modality and that individuals have the right to seek other forms of health care that may not fall within the definitions and scope of conventional medicine. 

Brief History of the Medical Profession in the United States

In 1847, the American Medical Association was formed and signaled the beginning of a more regulated and formal oversight of the practice of medicine. The article, "Doctor of medicine profession (MD)", from the National Institutes of Health website, states that: 

Medicine was the first of the professions to require licensing. State laws on medical licensing outlined the "diagnosis" and "treatment" of human conditions in medicine. Any individual who wanted to diagnose or treat as part of the profession could be charged with practicing medicine without a license.

As state laws were established, other healing professions such as naturopathy, homeopathy, and herbalism came under increased scrutiny, and, in some cases, were shut down for practicing medicine without a license, which had become the common purview of those licensed as medical doctors. 

Most alternative health care practitioners are unaware of the legal ramifications of practicing their chosen profession. Practicing medicine without a license is a misdemeanor; in some states, it is a felony. An article written by Paul Bergner of the Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute explains this further: 

…one of the common methods of prosecuting an alternative practitioner is to document the manner in which the practitioner describes her practice to clients, both verbally and in certain terminology to describe their profession and its purposes: “consult with patients”, “treatment of disease or illness”, “prescribe remedies”, “diagnose illness”, “cure illness”, provide therapy”, “administer medicine”, “relieve symptoms of illness” as well as other. The routine use of these words and phrases when describing or explaining one’s profession and purpose to clients constitutes prima facie evidence of practicing medicine, then one may be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license.

This still holds true in the 40 states that do not currently have health freedom legislation.

Why Health Freedom Legislation?

Health freedom legislation was created to open the doors for more healing professionals to practice openly without the threat of being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license.  

Current health freedom laws provide the following limitation and requirement to practice:

1. Ensure that the practitioner does not perform any actions that pose an imminent risk of harm to a consumer by clearly stating what the practitioner cannot do.

Example from the current health freedom bill in Massachusetts:

……perform surgery or any other procedure that punctures the skin of a person; (ii) use radiation, radioactive substances or local, general or spinal anesthesia; (iii) prescribe or administer any form of fluoroscopy on any person; (iv) prescribe or administer a legend drug or controlled substance or a legend medical device not otherwise licensed to prescribe; (v) provide a medical diagnosis; (vi) perform a chiropractic adjustment of the articulations of joints or the spine; (vii) represent that they practice massage therapy; (viii) fail to comply with any local licensing or regulatory requirements; (ix) hold out, state, indicate, advertise, or imply to any person that he or she is a health care provider licensed, certified, or registered, by the Commonwealth.

2. Require the practitioner to disclose certain information about him/herself.

Example from the current health freedom bill in Massachusetts:

Prior to providing complementary and alternative health services to a client for the first time, the practitioner shall disclose the following information to the client in a plainly worded written document: (i) the practitioner’s name, title, and business address and telephone number; (ii) a description of the complementary and alternative health services to be provided; (iii) the practitioner’s degrees, training, experience, credentials, or other qualifications relative to the complementary and alternative health services being provided; (iv) a statement recommending to the client that they notify his or her other health care providers of complementary and alternative health services he or she receives; and (v) that any violation of this section of law constitutes a violation of chapter 93A, the Commonwealth’s consumer protection law. Before providing complementary and alternative therapeutic services to a client, a practitioner must obtain an acknowledgment from the client stating that he or she has been provided with the information described in this subsection. The client shall be provided with a copy of this acknowledgment. The signed acknowledgment must be maintained for seven years by the person providing the services.

Successful health freedom legislation accomplishes several important things:

  • Provides parameters of practice for professionals and allows unlicensed professionals an opportunity to share their services with the health care consumer more openly and freely.
  • Increases awareness of the healthcare consumer about alternative health professionals, who can openly advertise and educate the public about their services.
  • Creates more open and inclusive dialogue around health care.
  • Establishes the potential for collaborations among professions in providing more options and opportunities for the public.

Although initial health freedom legislation began in Idaho in 1976, it did not take root until 1999, after which several states enacted legislation every few years. Until now, state-by-state licensing of health care professions was the only legal and respected process. Fortunately, the healthcare climate is changing and health freedom laws are providing additional opportunities to practice legally.

NAMA’s Position on Health Freedom Legislation

It is currently the goal of NAMA to help pursue licensure for the Ayurvedic profession while simultaneously supporting health freedom as an important option.

If you live in a health freedom state, you have much more latitude and can practice without the threat of a criminal charge looming over your head. Ayurvedic professionals who live in a state without health freedom must continue to practice with great caution and follow the current laws in your state.

For more information on health freedom legislation in the United States, visit the National Health Freedom Coalition: If you reside in a state without health freedom, consider getting involved with passing a health freedom law in your state.

Legal Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be legal advice. This article may contain links to other resources on the Internet.  These links are provided as citations and aids to help you identify and locate other Internet resources that may be of interest, and are not intended to state or imply that the National Ayurvedic Medical Association or the principal author recommends, supports, sponsors, or is in any way affiliated or associated with any person or entity associated with those links, or is legally authorized to use any trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol that may be reflected in the links.