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Should NH license music therapists?

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When facing a controversial issue, the New Hampshire Legislature can take years to work out a bill. Marijuana legalization, firearm background checks, Right-to-Work, and school funding are some of the most well-known multi-year debates. For the past four years legislators have been working on another issue you might have missed: whether the state should license music therapists.

What is music therapy?

Music connects many different parts of the human brain, from the language center to memories. It can also be used to stimulate movement. (Ever felt the urge to tap your foot when you hear a song?) Music therapists build on these neural connections to treat a variety of conditions and disorders, from depression to traumatic brain injury.

In one notable example, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords used music therapy to help regain speech after being shot in the head in 2011.

Recognizing music therapists with a license

It is possible to complete education in music therapy and get a national certification. However, New Hampshire does not require – or offer – a license for music therapists.

HB 1394, a bill currently in the New Hampshire Senate, aims to change that. The bill establishes a governing board that would set criteria and issue licenses to music therapists. If you want to call yourself a “music therapist” in New Hampshire, you would have to get licensed by the board.

A license would in turn allow music therapists to bill health insurers. In most cases, health insurers refuse to reimburse for services from a provider without a license in their field. That means most people seeking music therapy in New Hampshire have to pay out of pocket.

That includes veterans seeking music therapy in New Hampshire. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recognized music therapy as a valid form of treatment since World War II. However, the VA will not reimburse for treatment from unlicensed providers, which means veterans in New Hampshire must pay out of pocket if they want to work with a music therapist close to home.

Rep. Terry Roy (R-Deerfield), a cosponsor of HB 1394, spoke to this issue at a public hearing in January: 

“Keeping in mind we’re still fighting an epidemic of 22 veteran suicides a day in the United States, I would hope the committee would take that into account, and look at the possibility of using this to help our veterans in New Hampshire gain further access to that [therapy].”

Increasing bureaucracy versus increasing coverage

This is hardly the first time New Hampshire has considered creating a license for music therapists. Legislators sponsored similar bills in 2020, 2021, and 2023. While each bill failed for a slightly different reason, there is a common chorus among opponents: licensing bureaucracy is only worth it when there’s a threat to public health and safety.

It’s true that no one at the public hearings for these bills provided an example of a music therapist harming a patient in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile the Legislature has dedicated significant time (and legislation) to repealing and reforming burdensome occupational licensing laws in other fields.

Rep. Carol McGuire (R-Epsom) summed up the sentiment of many opponents at a committee meeting in February. “I don’t think that it’s justified to set up this procedure simply because some insurance companies don’t want to cover what is medically necessary or appropriate,” she said.

Licensing music therapists also would not guarantee health insurers cover treatment.

According to the Certification Board for Music Therapists, less than half of states require a license or some other registration process for music therapists.

Next step for music therapist licensing

HB 1394 passed the House on April 11, but it still needs to pass the Senate before getting to Gov. Sununu’s desk. If you have an opinion on this bill, your voice could help persuade senators to vote one way or another.

The Senate Executive Departments and Administration Committee will host a public hearing on HB 1394 on May 8. You can learn how to participate in that hearing with our Advocacy Toolkit.


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