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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Seniors: Does Medicare Cover Medical Marijuana?

Inquiring minds want to know. And in a word, the answer is “no, but . . .”

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Kimberly Holland explains:

  • Medicare won’t pay for medical marijuana.
  • There are multiple cannabinoid-based medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that your Medicare drug plan may cover, but each plan’s coverage is different.
  • Medical marijuana is an area of legal limbo. Differing laws at the federal and state levels make legal issues unclear.

More states are legalizing medical marijuana with each passing year. That may make you wonder whether Medicare will someday cover the cost of medical marijuana in your state.

Federally, cannabis (another name for marijuana) remains a controlled substance. It’s illegal to possess or use the drug under federal law. However, individual states have passed laws allowing distribution and sale within their state boundaries.

Thinking about trying cannabis medicine but don’t feel like you know enough about it? And maybe neither does your doctor? T

Medicare won’t cover medical marijuana because it’s considered a Schedule I controlled substance. In fact, doctors can’t even legally prescribe it.

Medical marijuana is usually suggested to treat symptoms like pain, nausea, and seizures. 

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If you’ve received a doctor’s recommendation and your state has legalized medical marijuana, read on to learn what you need to know about coverage for medical marijuana, how and why it’s used, and more.

Why doesn’t Medicare cover medical marijuana?

Medicare doesn’t cover drugs that are illegal according to the federal government. This includes cannabis.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t cleared Trusted Source cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for any medical use. That’s true even if you live in a state where it’s medically legal. This is another reason Medicare won’t cover medical marijuana.

What about Medicare prescription drug plans?

Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage, is health insurance offered by private insurance companies that provides additional coverage beyond original Medicare (parts A and B). 

Extra coverage may include: 

  • dental care
  • vision care
  • some prescription drugs

Medicare Part D is medical insurance that’s also offered through private companies and covers prescription drugs. It doesn’t, however, cover medical marijuana.

Parts C and D could cover the cost of cannabinoid medications that have been approved by the FDA and are available without restriction. This is where some flexibility exists. 

Cannabinoid medications, like dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) and Epidiolex, may be covered by Medicare drug plans because they’re approved by the FDA.

If you’re unsure what your plan covers, contact your Medicare prescription drug plan directly. They can help you understand whether you have coverage for any cannabinoid medication and how to fill a prescription.

What is medical marijuana used to treat?

Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, has been recommended to ease symptoms like:

Medical marijuana is often suggested to treat the symptoms of AIDS or cancer

Research has shown it can boost appetite and reduce nausea, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), medical marijuana may help ease pain and reduce muscle stiffness, according to a 2017 journal articleTrusted Source.

Cannabinoid-based medications

Dronabinol can be used to ease nausea and vomiting from cancer treatments and increase appetite in people with AIDS. 

Epidiolex can help prevent seizures and is used as a treatment for epilepsy. The FDA has approved both of these medications for these uses.

The federal government considers cannabis illegal and holds strict control over it and any cannabinoid-based products. That means research on the possible benefits or even the side effects of marijuana use is limited. 

Without data from clinical research, the FDA won’t be able to update its position on the safety or effectiveness of its medical uses.

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