Medical Marijuana and Medicare Coverage

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/12/2018

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Marijuana is the dried stems, flowers and leaves of the hemp plant Cannabis sativa which people smoke or consume, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is categorized as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means that:

  • The drug or substance has a high potential for abuse.
  • There is currently no accepted medical treatment use for the substance.
  • There are no accepted safety standards in place for using the drug in a medical treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s website states that the agency has not recognized or approved marijuana as medicine.* As such, despite the fact that some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, Medicare (like private insurance companies) will not cover medical marijuana for enrollees, even if your health-care provider suggests it is OK for you to use.

Is medical marijuana different from recreational marijuana?

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), medical marijuana “refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom.” Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana for medical purposes, it has approved two different medications in pill form that contain cannabinoids, the chemical compound found in marijuana.*

Research reported by NIDA suggests the cannabinoid THC, which has the intoxicating, mind-altering properties recreational users seek, is useful in increasing appetite and decreasing nausea. Another cannabinoid of interest to medical researchers is cannabidiol (CBD), which does not contain intoxicating properties. According to NIDA, CBA may be helpful in treating epileptic seizures and certain mental illnesses, as well in relieving pain and inflammation.

Marijuana laws vary from state to state, and in some cases, even from city to city or county to county; for a list of state laws on medical marijuana, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures medical marijuana website.

What are the uses for medical marijuana?

According to the Mayo Clinic, depending on where you live, you may qualify for treatment with medical marijuana if you have one of the following conditions:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Severe muscle spasms
  • Cancer (or pain, nausea, vomiting, weight loss associated with cancer treatment)
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma (please note that the American College of Ophthalmology does not as of this writing endorse the use of medical marijuanafor glaucoma)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • AIDS
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • ALS
  • Anorexia

Keep in mind that regardless of a state’s medical marijuana laws, a health-care provider may not prescribe marijuana for medical use due to federal prohibitions on prescribing Schedule 1 substances; he or she may only make a recommendation about its use for a particular medical condition.

What Medicare coverage is available for medical marijuana?

Because of the federal prohibitions on prescribing Schedule 1 substances, there is no Medicare coverage for the purchase of medical marijuana, and any out-of-pocket costs you incur purchasing marijuana for medical use will not count toward any deductibles under Part B or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan if you are enrolled in one.

If you have questions about medical marijuana and Medicare, I’m happy to help you. For information via email, or to schedule a phone consultation, please use one of the links below. You can view a list of plans in your area you may qualify for by clicking the “Compare Plans” button on this page.

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