Medical marijuana, used to treats Everything from chronic pain to Parkinson’s disease to PTSD is still not covered by medical insurance, a cost that some say is too high for those who depend on the drug.
“Cannabis is a drug, it’s indisputable,” Dr. Ryan Zacklin, of the MassGeneral Brigham Network, said at a hearing in Beacon Hill. “Medications, it’s all covered by insurance. There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen.”
A bill introduced by Rep. David LeBeouf, D-Worcester, in the House of Representatives and Senators Julian Sir, de Truro and Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would legalize health insurance coverage for medical marijuana products and related clinical visits.
Zacklin said at a Joint Committee on Financial Services hearing that patients, who pay an annual fee for the drug, do not come to him to buy marijuana. Instead, he said, “They come to me for pain, they come to me for anxiety, they come to me for insomnia, and that’s part of what I do.” He added that cost is among the biggest barriers to treatment he sees in his practice.
One Appreciation PriceofWeed.com put Massachusetts costs well above the national average: an ounce of “average quality” sprouts costs $282 in the Bay State, while nationwide, that price would be $256.
Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Massachusetts does not allow health insurance companies to pay for medical marijuana. This decision was reaffirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts last year, as The Commonwealth Review mentioned.
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans said in a statement that health insurance companies cover a cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, which is a forfeiture drug. Insurance companies also cover three medicinal products associated with synthetic cannabinoids that treat nausea and anorexia: Marinol, Syndros and Sesameate.
“The Food and Drug Administration plays an important role in supporting scientific research on different drugs to evaluate their clinical efficacy, appropriate dosage, determine the best route of administration, and test for potential drug interactions,” MAHP said in a statement. “Because medical marijuana has not yet been approved by the FDA, Massachusetts health plans do not offer coverage.”
Several patients who rely on medical marijuana to treat chronic conditions testified Tuesday, arguing that cost could prevent them from this basic treatment.
Jennifer Fan, 42, suffers from several chronic diseases including ulcerative colitis, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and endometriosis, and is a cancer survivor. She said she takes at least 15 medications a day, including two opioids and three controlled substances.
“I can replace at least eight of my medications for medical cannabis and get rid of them completely if I can afford them, or if my health insurance covers them. However, I can’t,” she said. “They will pay for high doses of opioids or controlled substances, But they will not pay for medicinal cannabis.”