The idea of marijuana as medicine has been a divisive and controversial one; however, in recent years, clinical trials and anecdotal reports on potential health benefits have spawned fresh, new attitudes about medicinal cannabis. Loosening restrictions on both medical and recreational cannabis suggest that certain formulations of the drug could soon be covered by some health insurance plans.
Cannabis has long been classified as a Schedule 1 drug on the DEA’s list of Controlled Substances, surviving many rescheduling petitions over the years. Since no Schedule 1 drug can be legally prescribed, medical marijuana is not covered by traditional health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid or Medicare at this time.
In September, Epidiolex, an epilepsy drug, was classified as a Schedule V controlled substance, making it the first cannabis-based medication to receive a lower classification. Medical marijuana proponents hope that this heralds a new position from the federal government regarding medical marijuana in general, but it really is only a first step.
Today, patients are still forced to pay for their medical marijuana treatments out-of-pocket; however, further reform may be just around the corner. Recently, a group of Democratic legislators led by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) introduced a bill requiring public health plans in New York State to cover medical cannabis drugs as they would any other prescription medication.
Besides offsetting costs, it is believed that expanding insurance coverage for medical marijuana could also help offset the opioid epidemic throughout the country. The Republican-led New York State Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction proposed broadening insurance coverage for medical marijuana with a view towards abating the opioid crisis. In particular, the report emphasized a recent decision by the state Workers’ Compensation Board to cover medical marijuana costs for people injured at work, while people outside of the workers’ compensation system have no such access to that kind of coverage.