A study published earlier this week showed that the number of Medicare prescriptions requested has declined in states where cannabis is legal for medical use.
The study conducted by Health Affairs, was to be used to determine whether marijuana decriminalization affected the way doctors practiced medicine or whether medical cannabis reduced public health costs.
Researchers looked at Medicare spending from 2010-2013, during which states like Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis for medical and recreational use. The data shows that the biggest declines were seen in Medicare Part D, which is the portion that covers prescription drug benefits.
In 2013 medical cannabis ended up saving Medicare 165 million in 2013. Researchers estimated that savings would be 470 million if marijuana were legal nationwide. This is about half of what the US spends annually on Medicare, according to NPR.
Results showed that the number of prescriptions for conditions such as nausea, anxiety, depression and chronic pain, were the lowest in states with medical marijuana. These are of course, conditions that cannabis is typically used to treat.
One of the co-authors of the study and professor of public policy at the University of Georgia, W. David Bradford had this to say, “We wouldn’t say that saving money is the reason to adopt this. But it should be part of the discussion. We think it’s pretty good indirect evidence that people are using this as medication.”
Unfortunately since cannabis is a Schedule I substance Medicare does not cover the cost of their medicine, so these patients have to pay out of pocket. If cannabis were rescheduled by the DEA then doctors would be allowed to prescribe it and medicare would be able to cover the cost. Since prescription drugs are much more expensive than cannabis, this would still save the program millions.
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