Public health insurance programs would be required to cover medical marijuana in New York if a new Assembly bill is enacted.
“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.”
“For thousands of patients, medical marijuana is a safer and more effective medication than other drugs, especially opioids.”
The bill, filed on Monday by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and 17 cosponsors, would add medical cannabis coverage to four publicly funded health programs—Medicaid, Child Health Plus, workers compensation and EPIC, as well as the largely publicly funded Essential Plan.
“For Medicaid and Child Health Plus, there would presumably not be federal matching funds until the federal government changes its policies, but 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 says.
The bill also clarifies that while commercial health insurance programs are not required to cover medical marijuana, they are free to do so. And it would allow state regulators to certify medical marijuana dispensaries as Medicaid providers solely for the purpose of dispensing cannabis.
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If enacted, it would be the latest in a series of steady expansions to the the state’s medical cannabis program. Earlier this year, for example, regulators moved to allow medical marijuana to be recommended for any condition for which opioids would normally be prescribed.
Meanwhile, the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is considering more broadly legalizing marijuana. Officials are conducting a series of listening sessions around the state on the topic, and the governor created a task force to draft legalization legislation that lawmakers can consider in 2019.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
New York Bill Would Require Medical Marijuana Be Covered By Public Health Insurance
New York regulators are moving to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids for any condition to use medical marijuana instead.
That means people suffering from severe pain, opioid dependency or other maladies will now qualify to receive medical cannabis, the state Department of Health announced on Thursday.
“Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release.
“Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state.”
Research has consistently demonstrated the ingredients in cannabis can treat various forms of pain, including neuropathic, acute and chronic pain.
Adding severe pain and opioid dependency to the list means that 13 health conditions now qualify patients for medical marijuana in New York. Currently, more than 62,000 patients and about 1,700 practitioners are registered under the state’s medical cannabis program, according to the release.
Numerous surveys have shown that, given the option of using cannabis as an alternative to prescription opioids, pain patients would opt for the former. Unlike opioids, marijuana does not come with the same risk of dependency and nobody has fatally overdosed on the plant.
There’s also evidence that states that provide legal access to marijuana experience significantly fewer opioid-related hospitalizations. A study released this week found that medical marijuana laws were associated with an almost 30 percent reduction in the amount of Schedule III opioids prescribed to Medicaid enrollees.
New York’s Department of Health first announced its plans to add severe pain and opioid dependency to the list of qualifying conditions last month, and is now releasing the emergency regulations to implement the decision.
New York Sen. George Amedore Jr. (R) said in a press release that he’s been “strongly advocating to remove barriers and allow the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids because it will help patients, reduce the number of highly addictive opioids in circulation and ultimately, it will save lives.”
“We continue to be faced with an opioid epidemic that is devastating communities throughout our state. It’s important we continue to do everything possible to address this issue from all sides, so I’m glad the Department of Health is taking this measure that will help high risk patients, as well as those that are struggling with, or have overcome, addiction.”
The move from the state health department reflects an evolving approach to marijuana in New York. The New York Democratic Party recently endorsed full marijuana legalization, for example.
And Zucker, the health commissioner, said last month that “the pros outweigh the cons” when it comes to ending cannabis prohibition in the state. A report from his department will recommend full legalization, he added, but a date for its release has not yet been announced.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who is facing a primary challenge from pro-legalization actress Cynthia Nixon, encouraged banks to begin working with medical cannabis and hemp businesses.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana As Opioid Replacement
Even as states look to expand the availability of medical marijuana and licensed physicians, a grey legal area has kept the progress slow in states like New York, which recently released a previously hidden list of prescribing cannabis doctors with the hope of easing access for patients. But despite the efforts by state officials and by medical cannabis advocates, many physicians remain very wary of the conflicting federal and state laws, encouraging doctors to remain cautious about publicly supporting medical marijuana. New York ends up being just the latest state to struggle with getting medical marijuana into the hands of patients with qualifying conditions, leaving more than half of cannabis doctors off of the voluntary public list even as the number of patients continues to swell.
Much of this pressure comes from the recent changes to New York’s medical marijuana laws, which now allows those with chronic pain to obtain prescriptions. Although this was a win for Democratic State Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island, a medical marijuana advocate, new complications have arisen thanks to the difficult access to New York’s registered cannabis prescribers. The recent move by New York State aimed to alleviate some of this difficulty, as many qualifying patients have had to rely on cold calling physicians in the hope of obtaining access. With the new voluntary list issued by the state, roughly one in three registered doctors in New York is now public about being a registered medical cannabis prescriber, which could still leave the expanding patient population with difficulty in obtaining medication.
Although there are potentially a host of factors complicating the issue, a main concern among physicians seems to be the obvious conflict between federal and state law. While enforcing marijuana laws was not seen as a priority in the Obama administration, new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a long-time cannabis detractor, is seen as considerably more likely to enforce the standing federal laws. Even though New York doctors were cautious before 2017 as well, the new list released by New York suggests significant hesitation by prescribing physicians when it comes to publicly supporting medical cannabis. In addition to the federal versus state dynamic, health advocates like Dr. Charles Rosenberg continue to cite limited scientific data about medical cannabis as a reason for physicians to be careful about treatment.
And yet, given that two-thirds of doctors actively prescribe cannabis without being on the public list, the evidence suggests that cautious physicians are much more concerned with the law than the lack of scientific data. As the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, Rosenberg also told reporters that he advises physicians not to get on the wrong side of federal law. For physicians with healthy practices that are not looking for legal complications, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of incentive to join the public list at this point in time.
The grey area being worked out in New York also echoes a myriad of other legal complications that have popped up as states grapple with asserting state law against federal restrictions. In Southern California, cannabis storefronts in both Los Angeles and San Diego have dealt with a host of legal fights, including strict application of zoning laws as well as severe fines and stores closures over the last couple of years. Although officials have been able to suppress storefront ownership in Southern California by going after landlords renting to dispensaries, medical marijuana delivery has been much more difficult to affect and the state also recently voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use, further diminishing the position of anti-cannabis advocates.
Even though the progress has been slow in New York and elsewhere, State Senator Savino and others are also encouraged about the recent developments in the New York’s medical marijuana policies. Savino helped push for the public list of prescribers and backed legislation that named chronic pain as a condition for obtaining treatment, which has brought aboard more than 3,300 patients in the first couple of months since the measure was adopted. While it is likely to remain a continual back-and-forth between states and federal law, more patients than ever before in New York – and around the country – are enjoying the benefits of medical cannabis despite the problematic grey areas.