Medicare System

Medical Cannabis May Provide Relief… to the Medicare System

A study published this month in the journal Health Affairs finds that “the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative fell significantly, once a medical marijuana law was implemented.”

The authors state that “(n)ational overall reductions in Medicare System and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013.”

This is a significant reduction in cost to the Medicare program (and therefore to all taxpayers). And it appears to be a result of states like Maine which have implemented functional medical cannabis programs.

Is this simply an anomaly, a happy accident of data? We know that correlation does not mean causation. But our extensive data and anecdotal evidence from our medical cannabis patients reinforce the study’s findings.

From members with PTSD who find themselves able to reduce pharmaceuticals and therefore to engage more heartfully in various forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, to those who are using cannabis to disentangle themselves from alcohol and opioid addictions, we daily meet medical cannabis patients who are turning away from insured pharmaceutical options, and toward a safer alternative.

But the first member I thought of when reading about this study was “Joan,” who is in her 70s and who has been living with dementia for six years. Joan is in home hospice care, meaning that under Medicare definitions, she has received a diagnosis of an expected six months or less to live. When first we met, late in May this year, Joan had been bedridden for about four days, and had developed a dollar-coin sized pressure wound on her heel which appeared to be potentially gangrenous.

As a person with agitation of presumed Alzheimer’s origin, Joan’s prescription list in May was extensive—though no different than most patients in her situation. It included the usual pharmaceuticals used to calm patients with dementia-related anxiety: Ativan, Seroquel, Lorazepam, and, when these didn’t work, Klonopin and Xanax.  Morphine was available too. These powerful drugs were there to calm her agitation. But her caregivers reported that they also ultimately were making her dementia worse.

Read it all HERE