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Could Medicare for All Make Medical Marijuana More Accessible?

Roughly 10 percent of Americans have access to medical marijuana and use it to treat conditions like chronic pain, insomnia, and to relieve cancer symptoms. What if Medicare for All could make medical marijuana easier to access? It could if the bill passes, but the process of getting there is a bit complicated. 

Medicare for All and the opioid crisis

If the Medicare for All bill passes, it would be bad news for the pharmaceutical industry. Big pharma is already lobbying hard against the legislation, along with private insurance providers and some hospitals and doctors. 

Here is how the pharmaceutical industry currently works:

  1. Pharmaceutical companies pay pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
  2. The PBMs negotiate with insurance providers to decide which drugs are covered and to what extent. 
  3. Insurance providers then indirectly dictate which drugs doctors may prescribe to their patients. 

This process has been a big contributor of one of America’s greatest health threats–the opioid crisis. According to a government report released in January, more than 130 Americans die from opioid use and overdose every day. 

If Medicare for All passes, it could cripple the pharmaceutical companies responsible for opioid over-production and over-promotion. For example, Purdue Pharma, one of the companies responsible for the boom in opioid prescriptions, would not have the same financial and legislative power under a single-payer system. In other words, all prescription drug plans would be regulated by the government and not by private insurance providers. 

A single-payer healthcare system could also remove financial subsidies from opioids, making them more expensive and harder to access. 

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The money problem of medical marijuana

In states where medical marijuana is legal, it is illegal for dispensaries to accept money through debit or credit transactions as cannabis is not yet legal across the country. This creates a barrier between patients and cannabis providers if they don’t have cash. 

That’s where Columbia Care comes in. This cannabis company has created their own credit program, the Columbia National Credit Program (CNC), which can be used to purchase medical marijuana by charging transactions directly to the patient’s CNC account. According to Nicholas Vita, CEO, Columbia Care wants to be ready to help people access medical marijuana if Medicare for All passes and they no longer have access to opioids. 

The program could “actually open the doors for [patients] to use products that are potentially much less harmful and more efficacious like medical cannabis,” he said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. The CNC Program is currently only available at Columbia Care dispensaries, but Vita is hoping to expand into other states. 

Medicare coverage of medical marijuana

Because medical marijuana has not yet been approved by the FDA, Medicare Part D prescription drug plans do not cover it. However, if you live in a state in which medical marijuana is legal, you may contact your Medicare Advantage provider directly to see if it’s covered by your plan. 

Vita’s plan operates under the assumption that medical marijuana will not be legal on the national level if a Medicare for All bill passes. However, at the rate at which states are legalizing medical marijuana, this may happen sooner than anticipated. 

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