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Massage board scales back fee hikes

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Massage therapists are facing an increase in state licensing costs, a jump that is less than initially projected but that one observer believes may lead more therapists to practice without a license.

The biennial cost of a license was originally slated to rise from $75 to $200. But after a backlash from massage therapists, the state Board of Massage Therapy adopted a series of smaller steps up, starting in 2019: to $125, then to $150 in 2020 and to $175 in 2022.

Before taking effect, the fees must be approved by the state House and Senate.

“I’m pleased that they changed it to a graduated rate, and it’s going to help with some people,” said Deborah Dunn, president and owner of the Lancaster School of Cosmetology and Therapeutic Bodywork in Lancaster Township. “However, for [the new fees] to be introduced this renewal year, it’s shocking to many people, and it’s a concern.”

She worries the hikes will lead more massage therapists to practice without licenses, making it harder to enforce state standards.

The state will not know if an unlicensed individual is running a practice unless the board receives a complaint, Dunn said. 

After the initial proposed increase to $200 became public, she talked to many massage therapists and only one was willing to pay the higher fee.

“Every time someone talks of an increased fee, it has people not wanting to renew their license,” she said.

The massage therapy board began exploring higher fees about four years ago, when it was considering what it would need to police the profession, Ellen Lyon, a Department of State spokesperson, wrote in an email. The board is housed in the department.

She said all legal actions and investigations — designed to keep unlicensed, unethical and incompetent practitioners off the streets — are paid for by revenue from license fees. But the 10-year-old massage therapy board was not bringing in adequate revenue in the past and has had to borrow money from the state’s general fund.

“There is always cause for concern when proposing a regulation which would increase fees, but the board recognizes this is something that must be done to protect the public, as well as the profession,” Lyon wrote.

The board scaled back its initial request after deciding that policing the industry would not be as costly as anticipated, according to Lyon. Many therapists also expressed support for a phased-in approach.

The initial proposal faced numerous protests from massage therapists, as well as skepticism from the state panel tasked with reviewing proposed regulations, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version. The original version incorrectly stated that the board inspects licensed practices once every two years. The board does not regularly inspect licensed practices.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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