Medical marijuana has become increasingly popular among older adults for treating a range of conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and neuropathy. However, due to conflicting laws, unclear safety standards, and complicated rule making processes, it may take years before Medicare covers the drug.
According to a poll by the Medicare Plans Patient Resource Center, one in five Medicare recipients currently uses medical marijuana, and nearly a quarter have used it in the past. Two-thirds of Medicare recipients think Medicare should cover it, the poll found. But Medicare doesn’t cover medical marijuana because it’s not federally legal and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
One significant issue is that the government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a category of drugs with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The FDA requires that a covered drug be approved as safe and effective, but the agency hasn’t approved cannabis for medical treatment.
Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states and Washington D.C., but major health insurers will likely decline to cover it as long as it remains a Schedule I drug under federal law. Private insurers rely on the FDA to guide them on which drugs to cover, and the FDA has not approved the marketing of cannabis for medical treatment.
The marketplace needs more data on the medicinal use of cannabis. “Insurers need data to show that the outcomes from cannabis care are equivalent to, if not better than, existing options that they do cover,” says Dr. Benjamin Caplan, founder and chief medical officer of CED Clinic, which provides services to people seeking cannabis treatment.
The dispensary system also needs to be tweaked, according to Dr. Caplan. Patients can’t have carte blanche to buy whatever they want, and insurance companies can’t be on the hook to cover that.
Considering the legal and regulatory obstacles facing the process, plus an overhaul of the dispensary system, the road to cannabis coverage is lengthy. Experts say it may take many years before Medicare covers medical marijuana. Until then, patients will have to continue to pay for medical marijuana out of pocket, which can be expensive. (Source)
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