A bill in the Kansas Legislature would create a state license for massage therapists. HB 2557 would require massage therapists to complete at least 500 hours of classroom training, pay licensing fees, and pass an examination in order to earn a license.
“We have had attempts to license massage therapy, and it has failed repeatedly,” Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, said.
She is hopeful it will pass this year. Bollier, a medical doctor, said she learned health insurers won’t pay for massages, but that might change if they are licensed professionals.
“There definitely isn’t a guarantee,” she said. “(Insurers) were saying we won’t pay for it when it isn’t licensed. The hope is this would cause them to be able to moving forward.”
Currently, consumers can use tax-free health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to pay for massages in some instances, but Bollier says traditional health insurance doesn’t cover massage therapy in Kansas.
Johanna Talcott, an Institute for Justice attorney, says Kansas is one of the least burdensome states in terms of its licensing laws. The Sunflower State is one of 11 states that doesn’t require massage therapists to retain a license, according to the Institute for Justice, a non-profit, libertarian public policy law firm.
Talcott says every dollar and hour massage therapists spend on meeting state regulations is time and money they can’t use to make a living.
“It’s kind of unfortunate Kansas is trying to make it more difficult for massage therapists to earn an honest living,” she said.
Instead, licensing requirements limits competition by keeping newcomers out of the market and driving prices up, she says.
“This is one of the few issues that on either sides of the aisle, both parties agree that licensing does more harm to the public economy,” she says.
Recently, U.S. Labor Secretary Jim Acosta and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard penned a column for the Wall Street Journal urging states to work together to reform to state professional licensing.
They wrote that only one in 20 jobs required a professional license in 1950, but today, more than 1,100 occupations require a license in at least one state.
“Each state decides how best to protect the health and safety of its citizens, and professional licensure plays an important role. No one wants to be operated on by an unlicensed doctor or share the road with an unlicensed truck driver. But too often, overly burdensome licensure requirements weaken competition without benefiting the public,” they wrote.
In Kansas, Bollier says massage therapist licensing fees would be minimal, and may even eliminate costs for some therapists.
“To me, it’s not burdensome at all,” she said.
In addition to mandating a certain amount of training, the Kansas proposal would require massage therapists to pay an application fee of no more than $80, temporary permit fees of $25, and license renewal fees of up to $75 every few years. The proposed law would also create a six member advisory board. Members would receive subsistence allowances in addition to being paid mileage and other expenses related to their official duties. The proposal recommends the board meet at least once annually.
“In my area in northeast Johnson County, every massage therapist who travels to people’s homes has to get licensed in every single city. They have to pay every single city to do this,” she said. “It’s just a real pain for them.”
Most professional licenses are used to ensure a standard of service and ensure a certain level of health and safety, but Talcott says licensing should be a policy of last resort.
“There are other ways to ensure quality in various industries. That can be something as simple as using Yelp to share client reviews or private licensing entities,” Talcott says. “The costs of licensing will outweigh the benefits.”