Mississippians may be freed from needing a medical referral to see most acupuncture practitioners.

The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill that exempts any acupuncture practitioner, licensed in the state for more than five years, from needing a doctor’s referral before treating patients.

Although the bill passed the Senate with no debate, the same wasn’t true in a Public Health committee last week.

At that time, Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, pushed for a re-evaluation of the referrals process. He said that his own referral for acupuncture, from a cosmetic surgeon, smacks of bureaucracy, given how little cosmetic surgery has to do with acupuncture.

“Right now any physician, regardless of whether you know anything about acupuncture, can refer a patient,” Burton said. “I know someone, the one standing in front of you today, who was referred by a plastic surgeon.”

“The right thing to do is to let acupuncturist who has had very very specialized training, thousands and thousands of hours of training, get licensed to practice adequately and properly and then we can do away with this silly referral that we have in the law,” Burton said.

The original legislation proposed eliminating referrals altogether. Ultimately, Burton proposed an amendment that capped the referral requirement after an acupuncture practitioner has been licensed in the state for five years.

Some senators said the referral process added a necessary degree of medical oversight to the treatment.

“I believe anyone who’s gone through medical school and a residency program is qualified to (make a referral). I believe in the referral process, and I’m working to improve the referral process,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, in the committee meeting last week. “But I believe anyone who’s gone through (medical) training has the background to make that determination.”

The bill now moves on to the House for consideration.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.