Future: Healthcare Coverage for Marijuana

Will your health insurer soon pay for pot/pakalolo/reefer?

This is an essay I wrote for my Cannabis Law & Policy class. Each of us were assigned a different state to write about. I was assigned to Ohio, which was particularly interesting due to its large veteran population and locality.

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Waimea, HI

With the adoption of medical marijuana policies in the majority of American states, and the general acknowledgment of its healing and medicinal purposes, I advocate for the subsidization of cannabis by health insurance companies. Not only will this allow insurees to choose the treatment program that is most effective for them — which will provide them with the highest level of care — but this also has the potential to save health insurers money usually expended on pharmaceutical expenses. Socially, this will revolutionize the marijuana conversation because it will solidify marijuana’s medicinal uses. It will also unlock the potential of many Americans whose lights are currently being dimmed by pharmaceutical drugs that are debilitating and addictive. Economically, this will decrease healthcare spending. Lastly, this will improve the health of patients who will have access to natural medicine.

Many patients have expressed how medicinal marijuana has helped them with anything from chronic pain to mental challenges like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, people who currently suffer from chronic pain are being prescribed painkillers, which are addictive and debilitatingly strong. This has resulted in the opioid epidemic that is currently facing our country, and many have advocated for the use of marijuana to treat those with substance abuse disorders. Patients have expressed that marijuana provides more effective treatment than the pharmaceutical drugs they are currently being prescribed. They describe the effects of marijuana as milder, with less side effects and more control over intake. Despite these benefits, due to out-of-pocket price differences, many patients are currently opting to continue taking prescription medications for pain even though they are harmful to them. Although these patients know that they are not taking the medication that is best for them and their condition, they are forced to out of financial necessity. Additionally, those facing monetary constraints often find that they are spending more out-of-pocket for healthcare because they are now paying full price for their medicines — rather than having them subsidized by their health insurer.

People should be empowered to choose the best options for treatment and should not be influenced by finances when making these decisions. As evidenced, health insurers should respond to best meet the needs of their patients. One way for them to do this is to extend medical insurance coverage to marijuana to provide their patients with freedom of choice. Providing subsidized copays for medical marijuana, as done for pharmaceutical drugs, would disrupt the current healthcare industry.

If insurance providers — including the VA — could subsidize patients’ marijuana costs, they could save more in the long-term by shifting a large amount of spending currently being used for the purchase of pharmaceuticals. Prescription pharmaceuticals, particularly painkillers and antipsychotic medications are known to be expensive, the prices of which are controlled by the pharmaceutical companies who seek to subsidize their very expensive research and development processes. However, the cannabis industry does not have the same complexities, as cannabis is a crop — and thus the industry follows a completely different business model — not needing a patent process which otherwise secures market monopolization for pharmaceutical companies. Many of the pharmaceutical companies are actually expanding and taking over cannabis companies. That, in itself, should reflect that marijuana has medicinal purposes.

Healthcare and economics are intertwined in this country, and marijuana has the propensity to disrupt the industry. States that have large veteran populations, like Ohio, can truly integrate marijuana into their healthcare systems through allowing insurance coverage for purchases of medical marijuana. Veterans are a special group of people who, socially, may be able to catalyst this change because of their high status as decorated heroes. Due to their unique trauma from military service for the safety of our county, which often results in both physical and psychological disabilities, impairments, or challenges, veterans are the perfect group to champion this policy. This revolutionary policy shift could also be an avenue for the VA to garner positive support, as they have historically been cited for not providing adequate care to our veterans. Nationally, Ohio is a particular state that has the ability to shape the conversation surrounding this issue because they have such a large veteran population and their state is often looked to as a moderate position.

Socially, if insurance companies extend coverage to medicinal marijuana, more people will be able to choose the best treatment option for them. Furthermore, as many patients have said, this will allow people to be more productive in their daily lives. Patients will be more present and capable of fostering better relationships with their family, friends, coworkers, and the like. Additionally, the adoption of this policy would further the social movement to accept the use of marijuana. However, this may create a need for more research concerning driving under the influence and education on the effects of safe consumption.

As previously stated, economically, insuring medicinal marijuana would allow both healthcare insurers and patients to expend less on medicines due to the lower cost of marijuana. The pharmaceutical industry may thus oppose this change in order to protect their investments in the research and development of other drugs. However, they are realizing that they should be involved in this industry as well. However, because our healthcare system provides a misaligned compensation structure, pharmaceutical companies may still oppose this matter — although they would seek to possibly make more money off of marijuana because they would no longer need to invest largely in research and development. Generally, the integration of marijuana into our healthcare system could actually decrease spending by a great deal and create a more sustainable model for providing treatment that does not rely so heavily on the development of new drugs.

There are many positive health effects that can result from the adoption of this policy. Patients can improve their health by reducing the amount of opioids, strong painkillers, and psychoactive drugs they consume. There may be some concerns about the negative health effects that may result from smoking, overdosing, or developing a reliance. As a society, this would be a huge step toward removing the stigma that still lingers around medical marijuana. Additionally, this would allow more patients access to treatment that can be preventative rather than responsive. For instance, there have been reports of marijuana aiding in bodily recovery from exercise. Assisting people to exercise will boost health and wellness overall. This can also possibly be applied to mental health and wellness — as CBD is now being widely sold as such.

In conclusion, if health insurance companies — like the VA — want to demonstrate their support of their patients, they should subsidize medicinal marijuana purchases. This will unlock freedom of choice for their patients, who are currently being constrained to outdated options because the healthcare system has not caught up with policy. Now that medical marijuana is legal, health insurers should find a way to assist their patients in obtaining the best treatment for them. Although they may face some difficulties, there should be creative mechanisms by which they can help patients get the medicine they need. Many, who take either painkillers or psychoactive drugs, have attested to the fact that marijuana is better at treating their symptoms and what they would choose if they had the financial freedom to. We, as a society, should not be subjecting people to this — they should be able to choose the best treatment plan for them and not have to worry about their finances. Health insurance companies bear the burden and should accordingly provide assistance for those who need medical marijuana.

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