New York has quickly turned into one of the more progressive states with what is allowed under their medical marijuana laws as they continue to expand their program. What started as severely restrictive, leaving many patients without access, would now cover thousands more – if they could only afford to keep up with their treatment. Unfortunately, all over the U.S. patients are forced to stop their medical marijuana treatment, or turn to the black market to buy their medicine, simply because they cannot afford dispensary prices. But, this bill aims to fix this problem for New Yorkers.
“Cost is the primary barrier to patient access in New York’s medical marijuana program,” reads a memo attached to the legislation. “Medicaid, other public health plans, and commercial health insurance plans do not cover medical marijuana, forcing patients to pay out of pocket. Some patients begin treatment only to stop due to inability to pay, while others turn to the black market.”
The bill was introduced on Monday by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and 17 cosponsors – and its goal is to require public health insurance to cover medical marijuana. Specifically, it would require Medicaid, Child Health Plus, workers compensation and the Essential Plan to cover medical marijuana treatments so that patients no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for doctor’s visits and their medicine.
“For Medicaid and Child Health Plus, there would presumably not be federal matching funds until the federal government changes its policies, but New York’s Medicaid and Child Health Plus programs have always covered people and services for which we do not receive federal match,” the Assembly memo says.
In most states, programs like Medicaid would not be eligible to cover medical marijuana – but New York has long used state funds to cover conditions and medications outside of those approved by the government. If this bill were to pass, it would mean that thousands of patients who rely on government or public health insurance would be able to access medical marijuana without having to pay ridiculous amounts of money and being forced into making decisions, like whether they can pay rent or have their medicine.
While this bill would not require that private health insurance companies cover medical marijuana, it would be a wise move for them to do so. Once public health insurance is covering medical marijuana they may lose patients who qualify for both and would choose the public option for access to the medicine they need.
Overall, patient access to medical marijuana could be drastically improved if health insurance companies were able to cover it – or were willing to. While not all states have the funding to allow government-funded programs like Medicaid to cover medical marijuana, private companies most certainly have the choice to cover it in states where it is available, which would greatly improve access to needed medicine for so many patients. If passed, this bill would help New Yorkers and prove that insurance companies can – and should – cover medical marijuana treatment.