Proposed Bill in New York Would Require Public Health Insurers to Cover MMJ

The bill would allow state regulators to certify MMJ dispensaries as Medicaid providers to dispense medical cannabis.
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On Monday, Oct. 22, 2018, New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D) and 17 cosponsors, filed a bill, which if passed, would add medical cannabis insurance coverage to four publicly funded health programs, including Medicaid, Child Health Plus and workers compensation, reported Marijuana Moment.

The bill states that commercial health insurance programs are not required to cover medical marijuana, but are free to do so.

The bill would allow state regulators to certify medical marijuana dispensaries as Medicaid providers for the purpose of dispensing cannabis.

“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 continues: “For thousands of patients, medical marijuana is a safer and more effective medication than other drugs, especially opioids. While it can be prohibitively expensive for many patients, especially in the absence of insurance coverage, it may often be less expensive than what their insurance coverage pays for other medications.”

Medicaid and Child Health Plus, an affordable health insurance plan for New York State residents under the age of 19, would not likely receive any federal matching funds for this program until the federal government changes its policy on marijuana.

“…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 states.

If enacted, the bill would amount to a significant expansion to New York’s medical cannabis program.

In September, 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing substance use disorder providers to recommend medical cannabis for pain instead of pharmaceutical drugs that contribute to opioid addiction.

Cuomo’s administration has been steadily moving closer to legalizing recreational marijuana as well, following a study commissioned by his office that recommended “a regulated, legal marijuana program be available to adults in the state.”

The governor then created a task force to draft legalization legislation that lawmakers can consider in 2019.