Yo, what’s good? This is Dan, and let’s talk about medical marijuana and how it’s becoming more popular among the OGs, our old folks. But hold up, even though more people are using it, there’s still some uncertainty around safety standards and conflicting laws, which could mean Medicare won’t cover it for a minute.
So, peep this – in April 2022, the Medicare Plans Patient Resource Center did a survey and found out that 20% of Medicare beneficiaries are using medical marijuana right now, with almost a quarter having used it before. And get this, 66% of them think Medicare should cover the cost of the drug. That means there’s a lot of interest in this alternative treatment among our elderly homies. But because medical marijuana isn’t fully legal on the federal level and doesn’t have FDA approval, it’s not clear if Medicare will cover it anytime soon. That sucks because our loved ones might not have access to this treatment option.
Now, let’s talk about why we need to provide Medicare coverage for medical marijuana to our seniors. A study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in April 2022 showed that 60% of patients visiting a major cannabis dispensary in New York were over 50 years old. These folks use medical marijuana to help them deal with various conditions like cancer, chronic pain, neuropathy, and Parkinson’s disease.
But here’s the thing – medical marijuana is expensive. According to New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, edibles can cost around $5 per dose, while plant buds can range from $5 to $20 per gram. That makes it a pricey treatment option that not everyone can afford. Even if it’s legal in some states, patients might still struggle to pay for their prescriptions.
Debbie Churgai, the executive director of Americans for Safe Access, knows that “medical cannabis isn’t cheap.” Her organization promotes safe and lawful access to therapeutic cannabis and research. Although some states cover the cost of doctor visits or medical marijuana cards, insurance coverage for the products themselves is hard to come by.
But why is it so hard to get Medicare to cover medical marijuana? Well, there are two big hurdles in the way. First off, the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I drug. That means they don’t think it has any medical use and is highly addictive. Because of that, it’s difficult to get it legalized or accepted as a medical treatment.
According to Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the federal government won’t reimburse medical marijuana through a federal program because they think it’s an illegal substance. The second obstacle comes from Medicare’s requirement that the FDA deems a drug safe and effective. And while the FDA has approved one cannabis-derived drug and three synthetic cannabis-related drugs for prescription use, they haven’t officially approved using cannabis for medical treatment.
Now, in states where medical marijuana is legal, you might think that private insurers like those offering Medicare Advantage plans would cover it. But it’s not that simple. According to Kyle Jaeger, a senior editor and cannabis policy reporter at Marijuana Moment, health insurers probably won’t cover medical marijuana as long as it remains a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Private insurance companies usually follow what the FDA says when they’re deciding which drugs to cover. But the FDA hasn’t approved cannabis for medical use yet. Plus, they recently declared that current regulatory pathways are inadequate for classifying CBD as a dietary supplement. That just makes things more complicated.
So, what does it take to get Medicare to cover medical marijuana? According to Dr. Benjamin Caplan, founder and chief medical officer of CED Clinic, which provides cannabis treatment services, insurers need more data on the use of cannabis in medicine. They need to see that it works as well as or better than other treatments they cover.
Dr. Caplan notes that the free-market dispensary system, where patients can buy any cannabis product, makes it harder for insurance companies to cover things. He suggests changing the system since insurers can’t be responsible for covering whatever product a patient wants.
According to Jaeger, getting medical marijuana covered is a complex process with lots of obstacles, including legal and regulatory issues and changes to the dispensary system. It might take years before we see any significant progress.
At the end of the day, we all want our loved ones to have access to safe and affordable medical care. Medical marijuana could help our seniors deal with pain and other health issues. But until we can get it covered by Medicare and private insurers, some people will miss out on this treatment option. We need lawmakers, regulators, healthcare professionals, and patients to work together to make it happen.