How Legalization Of Marijuana in California Will Impact Medicare
Use of marijuana for medical purposes saves local, state, and federal governments millions on Medicare and helps curb prescription drug use. A new study shows that in states where marijuana dispensaries are permitted to sell marijuana for medical purposes, the demand for painkillers has lowered.
Several researchers have been involved in the study of home painkiller abuse and overdose. Most of them are among chronic pain patients, are lower in states that have legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes. However, researchers’ claim that these patients are turning to marijuana at the expense of prescription drugs. As recently reported in the Journal of Health Affairs, this is no longer a hypothesis.
According to a University of Georgia Research duo that reviewed spending in states that have approved use of cannabis for medical purposes, if each US state were to legalize marijuana, individuals could save millions of dollars annually through the federal Medicare program. The total savings add up to $468 yearly, which is a jump of $303 million from the amount saved on prescription drugs in 2013 by the 18 states where marijuana was legal.
Ashley and W. David Bradford, researchers with University of Georgia conducted a study that showed when more states adopted marijuana-friendly laws, more people turn away from FDA-approved drugs.
The researchers said they were motivated by the simple question on how use of marijuana for medical purposes is affecting prescription drug use. They obtained data of all prescription drugs funded under Medicare Part D (Medicare prescription benefit). The federal government funds Medicare Part D to lower the drug costs for Medicare participants.
In their study, Bradford and his team collected Medicare data for 2010 – 2013. They considered the use of medication for nine conditions including psychosis, glaucoma, depression, pain, and nausea, all of which can be treated with cannabis. Of the nine conditions, they found out that only glaucoma did not see decrease in drug prescriptions when marijuana for medical use was available for treatment. Note that these are common qualifying conditions for patients to get recommendation to use marijuana for medical purposes.
The researchers also did a similar analysis on a wide range of other prescription drug categories including blood thinners, antiviral drugs, and antibiotics, which aren’t characteristically treated with marijuana. In this case, they didn’t find out any changes in prescription patterns. This is the opposite of their original categories.
They didn’t consider opioid prescription rates among painkillers. This is currently the most important issue as more and more Americans are becoming addicted to opioids in the US, including California. However, a further study into the pain medication included in the research revealed they were opioids. Medicare declined to comment on the researchers’ findings but revealed it was in the process of reducing the number of individuals with Medicare who are overusing opioids.
Bradford said he wasn’t not surprised by the fact that Medicare wants to get involved despite the fact that marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance under Federal Law.
He also said that most individuals use marijuana as medicine, not just for recreational purposes.
Cannabis has grown into a multi-million industry in states that have legalized recreational marijuana and the industry is still growing at a high rate. In April 2016, the marijuana industry in Washington, Colorado and other states posted unusually high sales, with retail sales hitting the 50 percent and above compared to 2015 in Colorado, as well as almost 100 percent spike annually in Washington. The two states only legalized marijuana six years ago.
As California has legalized recreational marijuana, we expect the same trend. Given that the state is the largest producer and exporter of the substance in the US, legalizing it will transform it into a multi-billion industry and impact various industries including California Medicare. It is also expected that legalizing medical marijuana will help fight addiction to other drugs, and also to kill the black market.
Medical Marijuana and Medical Coverage
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved or recognized use of marijuana for medical purposes. This means that despite several states including California having legalized use of cannabis for medical purposes, Medicare such as insurance companies won’t cover use of medical marijuana for enrollees, even if their healthcare provider suggests it is okay to use.
As much as the FDA hasn’t approved marijuana, it has approved two pills that contain cannabinoids – the active ingredients of marijuana.
As the federal classified cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, some healthcare providers may not prescribe it even if the state has legalized use for medical purposes. The physician may only make a recommendation about its use for patient’s condition.
As the federal government prohibits on prescribing any Schedule 1 substance, there is no Medicare coverage for purchase of marijuana for medical purposes. Any out-of-pocket costs that a patient incurs buying marijuana for medical use won’t count toward any deductibles as specified under a Medicare Prescription Plan or Part B if the patient is already enrolled in one.
It is highly recommended that any person that uses offline or online marijuana for medical purposes stay up-to-date with marijuana laws for their area of residence for any newly created laws so they can avoid inconveniences or landing into trouble with the law.