Legislature Asks Brown to Sign Bill Licensing Music Therapists

House Bill 2796 raises the level of professionalism for music therapy, opening the services to private insurance as well as Department of Human Services clients.

Oregon’s music therapists are headed for state licensing -- a move that should strike a good chord for the profession and those patients particularly attuned to this unique method of psychological therapy.

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 2796, licensing music therapists on Tuesday, following a 52-3 vote in the House.

“We’re validated and recognized by the state,” said Jodi Winnwalker, a Sisters music therapist and licensed clinical social worker, after the budget committee approved the bill earlier this month. “There are music therapists who want to practice in Oregon. It will allow them to stay in the state.”

House Bill 2796 requires anyone wanting to advertise or offer music therapy services to pay a fee and be licensed by the state, which will follow a national accreditation process to determine if a professional is qualified. Since music therapists are small in number, they will be classified within the greater Oregon Health Licensing Office, without representation on an existing board or the creation of a new one.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of specialized music techniques such as improvisation, performance, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, guided imagery with music, learning through music and movement to music in a therapeutic setting, particularly in hospice settings or when working to alleviate behavioral disorders.

Without licensure, Winnwalker said some insurers don’t recognize them as healthcare professionals. Tom Holt of Cambia Health Solutions testified in February that HB 2796 would ease the accreditation process for his company. “Music therapists have a critical role to play,” Holt said.

Perhaps even more crucially, licensure will remove a barrier to helping Department of Human Services clients, who receive a pot of state money to spend on services, but can’t utilize music therapy because the practitioners are not on an approved list. Winnwalker argued that the state could save money by employing music therapists for this population because it will reduce the need for more intensive services.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, the chief sponsor in the Senate, knows of a 4-year-old on the autism spectrum who had been too disruptive to attend preschool with other children, but had received tremendous help from a music therapist.

“He’ll be able to attend school in a regular kindergarten without an assistant,” she said. “We’ll open up this service for so many Oregonians.”

Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, said the savings to the state would be at least the $30,000 salary of that aide. She cited a Journal of Pediatric Nursing article that found music therapy was shown to be effective in a pediatric cancer unit, reducing the need for painkiller drugs, which can be particularly hazardous for vulnerable children.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, the chief House sponsor, said the therapy can help veterans break through post-traumatic stress disorder.

Parrish’s district includes Marylhurst University, which has one of the state’s two master’s-level music therapy programs; the other is at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

“These are legitimate, accredited programs that are churning out graduates in this state but can’t be licensed,” Parrish said.

Winnwalker said music therapists had been working on state sanctioning since 2008, only to finally break through with broad bipartisan support this session, which had legislators such as Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, offering their exuberant support in the Committee on Ways & Means.

Parrish said their primary problem had been understanding the byzantine legislative process, and came to her in mid-session two years ago, after the filing deadline. There was also little room for the bill to pass in the 2014 short session.

Winters told her colleagues that her granddaughter was significantly set back by a brain tumor, but benefited from music therapy and has been able to develop her music talents and recorded an album.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, busted out in song: “I support music therapy / I support music therapy / I’m going to vote to move this bill forward,” he sang to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Parrish had been approached to sponsor licensing for dance therapy as well, but told advocates that the Legislature needed to take this one step at a time -- leaving open a possibility that this year’s licensing law may be parlayed into future legislation.

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