Why Health Insurance Still Won’t Cover Medical Weed

By Shawn Dwyer 05/27/14

Despite growing mainstream acceptance, marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug keeps it from being covered by insurance for people who need it most.

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Every week, it seems as though another state approves or is on the verge of approving legal medical marijuana. In fact, New York state appears set to legalize medical pot today, while an Oklahoma advocacy group has begun its push to make it legal in the Sooner State.

But regardless of its rapidly broadening acceptance at the state and local level, the federal government still continues to list marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which defines it as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” as well as a drug with “potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Even though marijuana has been proven to boost appetites for cancer patients, dull pain, and drastically reduce seizures for people suffering a wide range of disorders, major insurance companies won’t cover the costs of medical marijuana for patients because of conflicting laws and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's lack of approval. That means patients spending upwards of $1,000 per month for their medicine must do so out of their own pockets and probably won’t see relief over the next few years despite more medical marijuana laws going on the books.

In order for FDA approval to occur, there would need to be enough research studies conducted to prove its medical effectiveness. But roadblocks in the form of attaining the proper permits, locations, and supplies have hampered research groups from conducting said studies. "The word 'marijuana' is just so politically radioactive," said Dr. Sue Sisley, a University of Arizona psychiatrist studying its effects on post-traumatic stress disorder.

For now, medical marijuana patients must either grow their own or make purchases from government approved dispensaries, which can prove costly in terms of time for growers and money for buyers. Patients unable to afford the high price of medical pot look to alternative ways to get their medicine.

"I'm just lucky I have somebody who is helping me out, but that could go away at any time," said Bill Britt, a 55 year old Long Beach, Calif. man who gets free marijuana from a friend to ease epileptic seizures and leg pain stemming from a childhood bout with polio. "I am always worried about that."


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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.