November 9, 2015

Music therapist cartelization in progress

By Caleb R. Trotter Attorney

Music therapists have been busy. Prior to 2011, no state required music therapists to obtain an occupational license. Yet, as a result of efforts of the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT), in the span of 13 months from 2011-12, North Dakota, Nevada, and Georgia enacted laws renotequiring music therapists to get licensed. More recently, on July 1, 2015, Oregon became the fourth state to license music therapists.

Unsurprisingly, AMTA and CBMT have not slowed down their licensing efforts. As of August, 2015, nearly identical bills pushed by AMTA and CBMT were pending in eight other states that would require music therapists to be licensed. Among those eight states is Florida.

There are 2 such bills currently pending in the Florida legislature. HB 571 would create a mandatory registry for music therapists and impose an annual requirement of 20 hours of continuing education. In contrast, SB 204 would create a full-fledged licensing scheme and committee to enforce the law.

It seems that AMTA, CBMT, and the Florida legislators sponsoring the bills (both Democrats) have missed the recent calls for occupational licensing reforms. Just this summer, the Obama administration released a report detailing many of the problems resulting from occupational licensing, as well as suggestions for improvement. And PLF attorney Timothy Sandefur recently testified at the U.S. Senate on the particularly harmful effects occupational licensing has on ethnic minorities and politically powerless groups.

So why the push for music therapist licensure? Have there been instances of members of the public being harmed by therapists without a license? If you ask the Director of Communications for AMTA, Al Bumanis, even though qualified music therapists are board certified, “more needs to be done to recognize the profession and whether that is to get referrals, direct referrals from agencies to get insurance reimbursement where that’s possible.” Another Florida music therapist stated that licensure “raises the bar and raises the standard of the kind of care we provide.”

In the absence of concrete examples showing unlicensed music therapists are unsafe, it seems more likely that “raising the bar” and “recognize the profession” is code for raising prices and making it more difficult for people to work in the field. How an individual who has earned a bachelor’s degree in music therapy and successfully completed board certification could put the public at risk because they do not have a permission slip from the state is baffling. In fact, one could interpret this as industry leaders saying that education and certification are insufficient to protect the public. If so, then why does the Florida bill require the exact same education and certification?

What is most likely going on is that the AMTA, CBMT, and some therapists in Florida and other states pushing for licensing are simply trying to use state government to protect themselves from competition and charge higher prices. This is unacceptable. Someone who has taken the time and paid the expense to earn a bachelor’s degree and board certification should be able to work without added burdens imposed by the government at the behest of industry insiders.

Even California Governor, Jerry Brown agrees! In vetoing a similar, but less stringent, bill in California last month, Governor Brown said:

I have been very reluctant to add licensing or title
statutes to the laws of California. This bill appears to be
unnecessary as the Certification Board for Music Therapists, a
private sector group, already has defined standards for board
certification.

Well said, Governor.

Fortunately, PLF’s Economic Liberty project will continue to fight from coast to coast to protect the constitutional right to earn a living. Hopefully state legislators across the United States will get the memo that the time has come to drastically scale back occupational licensing, not expand it further.

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