Why Health Insurance Won't Cover Your Marijuana
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Why Health Insurance Won't Cover Your Marijuana
Posted by CN Staff on May 08, 2014 at 10:18:27 PT
By Tom Murphy, Associated Press
Source: Associated Press
USA -- Patients who use medical marijuana for pain and other chronic symptoms can take an unwanted hit: Insurers don't cover the treatment, which costs as much as $1,000 a month.Once the drug of choice for hippies and rebellious teens, marijuana in recent years has gained more mainstream acceptance for its ability to boost appetite, dull pain and reduce seizures in everyone from epilepsy to cancer patients.
Still, insurers are reluctant to cover it, in part because of conflicting laws. While 21 U.S. states have passed laws approving it for medical use, the drug still is illegal federally and in most states.But perhaps the biggest hurdle for insurers is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved it. Major insurers generally don't cover treatments that are not approved by the FDA, and that approval depends on big clinical studies that measure safety, effectiveness and side effects.That research can take years and millions of dollars. And while the FDA has approved treatments like Marinol that contain a synthetic version of an ingredient in marijuana, so far, no one has gained approval for a treatment that uses the whole plant.As a result of the obstacles, advocates for medicinal marijuana say insurers likely won't cover the drug in the next few years. In the meantime, medical marijuana users — of which advocates estimate there are more than 1 million nationwide — have to find other ways to pay for their treatment.Bill Britt, for instance, gets his supply for free from a friend whom he helps to grow the plants. Britt lives mostly on Social Security income and uses marijuana every day for epileptic seizures and leg pain from a childhood case of polio."I'm just lucky I have somebody who is helping me out, but that could go away at any time," said Britt, 55, who lives in Long Beach, California. "I am always worried about that."Insurers have not seen enough evidence that marijuana is safe and more effective than other treatments, said Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade group.Marijuana's Schedule I classification under the federal Controlled Substances Act makes it difficult to conduct clinical studies that might provide that evidence. The classification means the drug is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. And that means extra precautions are required in order to study it.Researchers have to apply to the FDA to approve their study. Public Health Service, another arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, also may review it, a process that can take months.The Drug Enforcement Administration has to issue a permit after making sure researchers have a secure place to store the drug. Researchers also have to explain the study plan to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, another agency within Health and Human Services.And researchers have to use marijuana supplied by NIDA, which contracts with the University of Mississippi to grow the only federally sanctioned source of the drug. That can limit the options for strains of marijuana researchers can study.On top of that, researchers must find a location where the marijuana can be smoked or vaporized and scientists can monitor the patients afterward. That's no easy task, especially when dealing with public universities."The word 'marijuana' is just so politically radioactive," said Dr. Sue Sisley, a University of Arizona psychiatrist who is trying to study the drug as a possible treatment for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.The American Medical Association has called for a change in marijuana's classification to one that makes it easier for research to be conducted. The current classification prevents physicians from even prescribing it in states where medical use is permitted. Instead, they can only recommend it to patients.There is no easy and cheap way to get the drug legally. Patients in states where medical marijuana is legal can either grow it or buy it from government-approved dispensaries.At dispensaries, an eighth of an ounce, which produces three to seven joints, costs between $25 and $60, said Mike Liszewski, policy director for Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for safe and legal access to therapeutic cannabis. He noted that such an amount may not last long for patients who use the drug regularly to control pain or before every meal to help their appetites. Those patients might spend $1,000 a month or more.Patients may get a price break from their dispensary if they have a low income, but that depends on the dispensary.Growing marijuana costs less but takes three or four months. And success depends on a number of factors, including the grower's skill. And there are other problems: Britt, from Long Beach, California, tried growing it in his backyard only to have thieves steal it.Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the nonprofit National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, thinks insurers may eventually cover vaporized or eaten forms of marijuana. But he says when that happens depends, in part, on factors like who wins the 2016 presidential election.Even if the FDA approves medicinal marijuana, there's no guarantee that insurance coverage will become widespread. Big companies that pay medical bills for their workers and dependents decide what items their insurance plans cover. They may not be eager to add the expense.Meanwhile, patients like Kari Boiter, 33, continue to get medical marijuana however they can. Boiter has a genetic disorder that causes pain, nausea and vomiting, and she uses marijuana she helps grow in a cooperative garden to control the symptoms.Boiter, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, and is unemployed, said she'd have to go back to largely ineffective prescriptions, or do without treatment if the cooperative went away."It would be really hard for me," she said.Source: Associated Press (Wire) Author: Tom Murphy, Associated PressPublished:  May 8, 2014Copyright: 2014 The Associated PressCannabisNews   Medical Marijuana Archives 
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Comment #6 posted by afterburner on May 10, 2014 at 00:04:19 PT
'The Most Medicinal Plant in the World'
 RUN FROM THE CURE: The Rick Simpson Story - A Film by Christian Laurette: up, FDA. Stop shilling for Big Pharma and get real!
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Comment #5 posted by Sam Adams on May 09, 2014 at 14:22:57 PT
FDA approved!
yum yum! I'll take an extra helping of azodicarbonamide please! Thanks FDA!>>>The ingredient azodicarbonamide can be found in a wide variety of products, including those served at McDonald's and Starbucks and breads sold in supermarkets. It's approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner. But the petition by Vani Hari of gained attention after Hari pointed out the chemical is also used to increase elasticity in products including yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather.
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Comment #4 posted by Sam Adams on May 09, 2014 at 10:02:54 PT
yoga mats
Remember that both the FDA and USDA approved the yoga mat plastic chemical for use in our food - and Subway, McDonald's, Burger King and Starbucks all used it. The chemical is banned in the EU.The fact that our system won't allow cannabis use is a clear sign of how screwed-up we are.  The lesson here should be that our regulatory agencies are totally compromised and now serve to damage your health rather than protect it.I would not trust anyFDA- and USDA-approved chemical or drug without investigating it myself. They represent the wishes of a medical and pharma industry that profits more off oncology (cancer) than any other specialty, they are not interested in preventing people from getting chronic diseases.
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Comment #3 posted by The GCW on May 09, 2014 at 04:19:48 PT
Study: Teens’ marijuana use not affected by legalization of medical cannabis
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Comment #2 posted by cannabissaves on May 09, 2014 at 00:10:58 PT:
what they forget to mention
The FDA is does not approv anything 100%natural .only food and man made food additives. Chemicals ect but nothing natural .I think only for food people sell that free of all pesticides and other thngs like that .and if they care for our health so much then why do they approve of GMO`s
becuase of that almighty dollars. Greed can bring the diggest most powerfull naiton down.and at this point I dont what to see any more bad happe. To this country.I thank the god there are still some honest men let inthe gov may they stay safe and strong and have nothing harm them as long as they dont harm they ccitizens of this once great nation
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Comment #1 posted by observer on May 08, 2014 at 22:59:28 PT
FDA - The Angelic Seal of Righteous Approval
re: "But perhaps the biggest hurdle for insurers is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved it"Right. And remember, when you think of the Food and Drug Administration, think of a big, important-looking institutional looking building. Governmental and scientific. The men and women who comprise the FDA, arrive each day and don white, scientific smocks - to engage in scientific state-of the art research to keep us safe, you see. Safe - from the snake-oil and opiated nightmare "medicines" sold by quacks and hucksters from their traveling medicine shows. No, nothing like that in the sparking clean, scientifically-approved, governmental-inspected, accredited, legal, best-of-practice modern medicine we have come to expect from the premier, the first among nations, the God-blessed U.S. of A.'s own and finest: the FDA. That's the image government/corporation carefully nurture of the FDA. A detached, health-conscious, scientific agency here to help mankind. With science - which is to say, truth. Truth: backed up by Justice (the Dept. of), in a Godly (Rom. 13), almost angelic Onward-Christian-Soldiers kind of way. In other words, the FDA is straight from God, and is doing God's work on earth. Whatever you do, do not think of the FDA as another political agency that is headed by a political appointee, an appointee that serves at the behest of whatever president is there at the time. A political appointee who can over-ride any and all FDA underlings for political reasons. Forget Thalidomide and Vioxx and the placebo effect and skyrocketing cancer rates under the FDA's tender loving care for all these years. Forget all that, and think of the big government FDA buildings. Think of all that knowledge that must go into those white smocks we imagine the diligent FDA researchers to wear! The FDA exists only to use their great and Godly wisdom to save us from folly in drugs and food. Snake-oil. Soothing syrups which create dead babies. The FDA saves babies! So whatever you do, don't think of the FDA as another corrupted corporatist lie, a graft-ridden Golem conjured up out of whole cloth and written into US Federal law. Don't think of the FDA as a way to cow you and strip away your rights to take natural medicines. Don't do that. And please, never frame the FDA as simply a corrupt agency that provides excuse and propaganda cover for corrupted politicians and bureaucrats. No, the FDA would never sic the police on your cancer-ridden mama, if she should decide to grow a few poppies or a few pot plants rather than "get with the system", and gobble down 10-20 different patent-medicines daily at a thousand times the cost. Profitable FDA-approved meds that keep her nicely zombified. Don't, go there, OK? (Because otherwise you might be one of those domestic "extremists" I fear so much about these days.) Summary:FDA: good. (It is not that FDA would withhold their precious little "approval" stamp for pot as a medicine for purely political and corrupt reasons, Oh no! Unthinkable!)Casting aspersions on our FDA-American Way of Life: wicked terrorist bad. Any questions?
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