Sparks Fly at Denenberg Hearing on Chiropractic (1972)


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 18, 2020

During the 1970s, chiropractors campaigned relentlessly for a law that would force Pennsylvania Blue Shield to pay for chiropractic x-rays. In  1972, while one such bill (H.B. 816) was being considered, Insurance Commissioner Herbert S. Denenberg scheduled a hearing to consider a Blue Shield request to increase its premiums. When I asked him to include discussion of chiropractic’s role in health care, he agreed to do so and invited me to testify.

Denenberg, who was sometimes referred to as “the Ralph Nader of Insurance,” had spoken out repeatedly about excessive medical costs and the overuse of x-rays by medical doctors and dentists. About a year before the hearings were held, I suggested that he also look at chiropractic use of x-rays. He invited me to meet with a member of his staff and to send relevant documents, which I did. He also received reports from the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

My concern about chiropractors was largely provoked by chiropractic ads that greatly exaggerated what they could do. About six months before the hearing, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson became interested in this topic and asked me to keep him informed. At that time, a practice-building organization called Share International marketed collection of newspaper ads that it said had been used effectively in many parts of the country. The instructions for the ads said: ““Re-type each ad on your own stationery for presentation to your editor. This would indicate that they are your own creations, and that the cases mentioned, conditions discussed, etc., are from your own files.” [1]

One of the chiropractors lobbying for passage of the insurance bill was Monroe Schneier, D.C., president of the Pennsylvania Chiropractic Association. Schneier was newsworthy because he had treated Pennsylvania Governor Milton J. Shapp and had contracted with the state to evaluate chiropractic invoices to the Medical Assistance program. Nine days before the hearing, after learning from me that Schneier was using the Parker advertising system, Anderson reported this [2] and Philadelphia’s press outlets amplified the story. During the evening before the Denenberg hearing, I notified the network TV newsrooms that I would be testifying at the hearing and would display the ads.

The hearing was fascinating. Denenberg had done his homework. During the morning  he displayed studies which concluded that chiropractic had no scientific validity and was dangerous. He also asked chiropractors whether they had “anything to really refute these studies” and they said no. During this time and in the early afternoon, no TV crews were present and I began to worry that they would not show up. But five minutes before I was scheduled to testify, two camera crews rolled in. As I approached the podium their floodlights went on, which made it clear to everyone that they had come to film me!

I spoke about the shortcomings of chiropractic education, deceptive advertising, and the probable costs of H.B. 816. In addition to displaying ads in which Schneier had advertised case histories of patients whom he had never seen, I showed ads from other Pennsylvania chiropractors who claimed they could treat gall-bladder disease, heart disease; flu, ulcers, high blood pressure, and hundreds of other conditions. Then I played part of a speech by a prominent chiropractor who says that everyone should see a chiropractor at least once a week for what he called “preventative maintenance.”  I also suggested  that “if chiropractors and their patients want insurance, they should start their own company.” [3]

After I finished, Denenberg invited Schneier and two other chiropractors to join me for a “roundtable discussion.” However, instead of responding to the content of what I had said, Schneier asserted that my testimony was invalid, that I knew nothing about chiropractic, had not studied it, had not practiced it, had not researched it, and had merely presented my own “biases.” After droning on for several minutes about supposed chiropractic benefits and medical shortcomings, he said again that “no one but chiropractors are capable of talking about chiropractic coherently.” At that point, Denenberg referred to the critical studies he had reviewed, which Schneier (incorrectly) claimed were outdated, and they argued back and forth for about half an hour more. The TV crews stopped filming about a minute after Schneier began to speak.

On the day of the hearing, Denenberg issued a news release that cited the H.E.W. Report in Chiropractic and two other reports that were very critical of chiropractic [4]. Newspapers also notred that he handed out a statement that called chiropractic a “cult” and said that Pennsylvania should reconsider its policy of licensing them [5,6]. After the hearing, I told my local legislators that voting for H.B. 816 at the same time the Insurance Commissioner might make headlines opposing it would not be politically smart—and I asked them to point this out when they caucused with other legislators to discuss the bill.

The chiropractors apparently panicked. Instead of waiting until the heat died down, their lobbyists pressured the bill’s sponsors for an immediate vote. This backfired, however, and the bill was defeated by a vote of 107 to 70.

One week later, Schneier ran an ad which characterized the critical studies presented the hearing as the “historical equivalent” of a “scientific study” that the Nazis used in 1952 to “prove” that “Jews were an “inferior and dangerous people who should be exterminated.” [7]

A law was eventually passed to force Pennsylvania Blue Shield to pay for chiropractic x-rays. But the publicity generated by Jack Anderson’s column and the Denenberg hearing helped to delay its passage for several years.

References
  1. Barrett S. Share International’s fraudulent ad system. Chirobase, Nov 14, 2014
  2. Anderson J. Shapp’s chiropractor.  Sept 18, 1972.
  3. Transcript. Public Hearing on Premium Request of Blue Shield of Pennsylvania and the Health Care Delivery System in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Sept 27, 1972.
  4. Denenberg questions value of chiropractic treatment. News release, Pennsylvania Insurance Department, Sept 27, 1972.
  5. Sprague B. Denenberg urges ending Pa. chiropractor licensing. Bethlehem Globe -Times, Sept 28, 1972.
  6. Coverage denied: Chiropractic bill defeated in House. Allentown Morning Call, Sept 28, 1972.
  7. Schneier M. Denenberg’s dilemma. Middletown Press-Journal, October 4, 1972.