Does Medicare Cover Medical Marijuana?

In this article...
  • Medical marijuana is legal in many states. If you are wondering if Medicare will pay for medical marijuana, this overview offers the information you need.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in many states and is used as a treatment for nausea, seizures and severe pain. This treatment is somewhat controversial because of its lack of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. This means that states that approve medical marijuana use are technically in violation of federal laws governing this controlled substance. Does Medicare cover medical marijuana? Read on to find out more.

Why Can't Medicare Cover Medical Marijuana?

Because marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, Medicare will not pay any portion of the cost of this treatment. Under federal law, marijuana in any amount is not legal for use or possession. This precludes Medicare from covering costs associated with medical marijuana in any of the states in which it has been legalized.

One issue that may prevent federal agencies from legalizing the use of marijuana is the lack of reputable research studies on the uses of cannabis for medical purposes. Because marijuana is illegal, the ability of researchers to investigate the benefits of this substance has been severely limited, creating a sort of Catch-22. 

Is Medical Marijuana Covered by Medicare Prescription Drug Plans?

Neither Medicare Part C nor Medicare Part D insurance plans cover medical marijuana. These plans can cover dental and vision care as well as prescription drugs. The legal status of marijuana, however, precludes coverage for this treatment option.

What Conditions Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Medical marijuana has primarily been used to treat pain, nausea and seizure disorders. It may also have a beneficial effect on inflammation, muscle stiffness and loss of appetite. For some patients, medical marijuana can reduce stress and anxiety. Patients with AIDS, cancer or multiple sclerosis may also benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

Are Any Cannabis-based Medications Covered by Medicare?

Cannabinoid medications that have been approved by the FDA can be covered by Medicare. These include brand-name medicines like Marinol, Syndros and Epidiolex:

  • Both Marinol and Syndros are brand names for dronabinol, a drug used to treat nausea and vomiting in patients who are undergoing treatments for cancer.
  • Epidiolex is recommended as a treatment for epilepsy thanks to its ability to reduce the number and severity of seizures in many patients.

These medicines do not contain THC, which is the psychoactive component of medical marijuana. As a result, they do not produce a high in patients who take them. This allows Medicare to cover these medications in certain cases.

What Are the Differences Between CBD and Medical Marijuana?

Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, is a medication derived from the cannabis plant that does not contain THC. CBD is often available without a prescription in states that have legalized medical marijuana as well as those that have not. Some of the key differences between CBD and medical marijuana include:

  • CBD is legal in most areas and is used to lower anxiety, reduce pain and improve relaxation in patients who use it.
  • You can obtain CBD without a doctor's visit or recommendation.
  • CBD does not produce a high in the patients who use it.
  • Medical marijuana is much more closely controlled for quality and for dosage than comparable CBD products.

In general, Medicare will not cover medications that are available without a prescription. This usually rules out Medicare coverage for CBD products.

Obtaining a Medical Marijuana Card

The District of Columbia and 36 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. In some areas, recreational use of marijuana has also been legalized. For states in which only medical marijuana is legally allowed, you will need to obtain a medical marijuana card. This card will serve as identification for you at the dispensaries where medical marijuana is sold. The process for obtaining a medical marijuana card includes the following steps:

  • Schedule an appointment with a physician to evaluate whether medical marijuana is a good solution for your medical condition.
  • Apply for a card with your state medical marijuana authority. You will need to complete an application, pay a fee and include a copy of your doctor's recommendation.
  • Once you are approved for a medical marijuana card, you can present it at a dispensary to obtain the products you need for better health.
  • You will also need to renew your card each year. This will require a follow-up visit with your doctor to make sure that medical marijuana is still a good treatment option for you.

The cost of medical marijuana can be significant. In addition to the initial application fee and the doctor's visit necessary to obtain a medical marijuana card, you will also pay the full cost of medical marijuana products out of your own pocket. Discounts may be available from some dispensaries for medical marijuana cardholders. These discounts may be based on income or on the frequency of visits to the dispensary.

How Medical Marijuana Is Used

There are several methods for ingesting marijuana for medical purposes:

  • Marijuana can be smoked either in a hand-rolled cigarette or in a pipe.
  • You can also vape marijuana in some cases.
  • Edibles and consumables are available in a wide range of choices, including candies, sodas and concentrates.
  • Tinctures are another way to deliver concentrated marijuana to patients.
  • Oils and creams may be applied topically to deliver marijuana directly to the source of the pain or discomfort.

Regardless of the way in which you choose to use medical marijuana, you will likely be paying the entire cost of the treatment on your own. This can add up to a considerable expense, especially for individuals on fixed or limited incomes.

So, does Medicare cover medical marijuana? Unless medical marijuana is reclassified and removed from the current list of controlled substances, the answer will continue to be no.