Bills filed in state House, Senate would legalize medical marijuana insurance coverage [Boston Herald]
Boston Herald (MA)
Nov. 10—Medical marijuana, used to treat everything from chronic pain to Parkinson's Disease to PTSD, is still not covered by medical insurance, a cost some say is prohibitively expensive to those who rely on the drug.
"Cannabis is medicine, it's indisputable," Dr. Ryan Zaklin, who works in the MassGeneral Brigham network, said at a Beacon Hill hearing. "Medication, it's all covered by insurance. There's no reason for this not to be."
A bill filed by state Rep. David LeBoeuf, D-Worcester, in the House and Sens. Julian Cyr, D-Truro and Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, would legalize health insurance coverage for medical marijuana products and related clinical visits.
Zaklin said in the Joint Committee on Financial Services hearing that patients, who pay an annual fee for the medication, don't come to him for marijuana. Instead, "they come to me for pain, they come to me for anxiety, they come to me for insomnia, and this is a part of what I do," he said. He added that cost is among the biggest barriers to treatment he sees in his practice.
One estimate on PriceofWeed.com put Massachusetts's costs well above the national average: an ounce of "medium-quality" bud costs $282 in the Bay State, while nationally, that price would be $256.
Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and not yet FDA approved, Massachusetts does not allow health insurers to pay for medical marijuana. The Supreme Judicial Court reaffirmed that decision in Massachusetts last year, as CommonWealth Magazine reported.
A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans said in a statement that health insurers cover one cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, a seizure drug. Insurers also cover three synthetic cannabis-related drug products which treat nausea and anorexia: Marinol, Syndros, and Cesamet.
"The FDA plays an important role in supporting scientific research on various drugs to assess their medical efficacy, the appropriate dosage, determine the best route of administration, and test for possible drug interactions," MAHP said in a statement. "Because medical marijuana is not yet FDA approved, Massachusetts health plans do not offer coverage."
Several patients who rely on medical marijuana for chronic conditions testified Tuesday, arguing that the cost can prevent them from this essential treatment.
Jennifer Van, 42, suffers from several chronic conditions including ulcerative colitis, anxiety, PTSD and endometriosis, and also survived cancer. She said she takes at least 15 medications per day, including two opiates and three controlled substances.
"I could replace at least eight of my medications for medical cannabis and get rid of them completely if I could afford it, or if my health insurance covered it. However, I cannot," she said. "They will pay for high-dose opiates or controlled substances, but they will not pay for the medical cannabis."