Michael Detwiler, who runs The Neuromuscular Clinic with Stephanie Lansdown, says the state's licensing process is a must in his industry.
Group throws cold water on professional licenses
Michael Detwiler had to complete 500 hours of training for his state license to practice as a massage therapist in Missouri, and he completed additional hours to earn national industry certification.
But Detwiler is not complaining. It's a St. Louis-based public policy think tank that's throwing darts at the state's sometimes costly professional licensing requirements.
A Show-Me Institute study issued in December asserts that, while Missouri has fewer statewide licensing requirements than any other state, many industries still face unnecessary regulations that serve only to inflate costs for consumers. The study has drawn some opposition, especially from those in some of the state-regulated industries.
The state of Missouri requires licenses for 75 professions, from dental hygiene to landscape architecture to massage therapy.
"The licensing process is a must," said Detwiler, who along with fellow state-certified massage therapist Stephanie Lansdown run The Neuromuscular Clinic, which opened Nov. 15 in Springfield. "If you don't know what you're doing and say that you do, you could really do some harm to somebody."
Both the state of Missouri and the city of Springfield require massage therapy practitioners to carry a license. On the state level, it costs $150 to license a new massage therapy business, along with the expenses to meet education requirements; the city license costs $25 a year.
The Show-Me Institute's decision to look into state and local licensing requirements followed a study by the Reason Foundation that said Missouri had the fewest statewide licensing requirements of any state.
"I had worked in county government before I came to the Show-Me Institute, and I knew that St. Louis County had a lot of local requirements," said David Stokes, Show-Me Institute policy analyst. "I thought, 'What good is it to be last in the country on the statewide level if we just have more licensing on the local level?'"
As a case study, the institute compared the prices of massage therapy sessions in Springfield and Wichita, Kan., where no statewide massage therapy licensing requirements exist.
The study found that the average cost of a massage session in Springfield is $65, compared to $55 in Wichita. Stokes said the difference has to be at least partly due to the extra requirements that come with licensing.
Detwiler, who charges $60 for an hourly session, disagrees. He points to California, which also has no statewide requirements for massage therapy.
"If we did the same work in San Diego, it would be a lot more expensive," Detwiler said.
"I think it's more about where you are. I don't think the licensing would really have an effect on price."
Impetus for regulation
Stokes also argued that many, if not most, of the statewide regulations have been pushed by existing practitioners in those professions as a way to limit competition.
"Licensure usually increases the costs of entering an occupation by a significant margin, which reduces competition and so is generally desirable from the perspective of current practitioners - especially those who are grandfathered in when licensure is first enacted," Stokes said in his report.
Not so, said Juliet Mee, owner of Professional Massage Training Center and The Neuromuscular Clinic. Mee offers an interesting perspective as a licensed massage therapist who serves on the state licensing board for massage therapists - a spot she's held for 10 years.
Mee said the initial push to license massage therapists came from the state sheriffs' association, which wanted to separate legitimate professional massage practices from operations that offer prostitution under the banner of massage.
"They told us they just wanted to know the standard of practice for the profession, so they can know if someone is operating outside that," Mee said. "The state doesn't license anything if there's not a consumer protection issue associated with it."
Mee argued that massage therapists especially need licensing because of the intimate nature of the work.
Missouri also requires supervised training and criminal background checks of therapists from the FBI and State Highway Patrol.
Mee also noted that she's aware of people denied Missouri massage therapy licenses who have gone to practice in other states without licensing requirements.
"I guarantee you that there are people who have been eliminated from practicing in this state that are people who don't need to be practicing massage, and anyone who encountered them could be at risk," Mee said.
The desire to be licensed also extends into other fields. Brian Kubik, an architect and partner at Buxton-Kubik-Dodd, said that despite the extensive testing requirements - a series of nine pass/fail exams - to become an architect, it's well worth the effort.
"It's our job to make sure that any building is safe for the people that go into it," he said. "That's not necessarily the view of everyone involved. We're the overseers of safety concerns."
He added that the National Council of Architecture Review Boards has in recent years made it easier for architects licensed in one state to get licensed in others.
State vs. individual oversight
Balancing the desire for as little government intervention as necessary with the need to protect consumers is the biggest issue state Rep. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, deals with as chair of the House Special Committee on Professional Registration and Licensing.
While Wasson said he usually prefers a lack of state intervention whenever possible, he has to err on the side of consumer safety.
"There may be (licenses) out there that didn't need to be (regulated)," Wasson said. "But you have to look at both ... what the consumer expects when they walk into an establishment and how much burden you're putting on the professional."
To that end, Stokes - who did say there are some industries, such as medical, that are right to require licenses - points to industry certification as an alternative to state licensing.
"That's the market at work - people going out, increasing their ability and telling that to their customers," Stokes said. "It's totally different when the state passes a law and creates a commission to determine who can and cannot go into that profession in the future and to set standards for performing that job. Those are decisions better left, in most cases, to consumers."
Wasson, however, said self-policing isn't always sufficient. For example, he noted pre-need funeral services, which the state Attorney General's Office has been working since 2005 to crack down on companies that sell such arrangements only to abscond with the money.
"I don't think the state was watching (the pre-need funeral industry) very closely," Wasson said. "I'm basically having to rewrite an entire chapter of statute to hopefully protect people that are buying those things. I think there is cause at times for the state to have some oversight."[[In-content Ad]]