Medical Cannabis Health Insurance Coverage Bill Approved in New York State Senate

In early June 2022, the New York State Senate approved a bill which mandated public health insurance programs to cover medical cannabis expenses and defined how private insurers are allowed to handle these expenses as well (1).

In early June 2022, the New York State Senate approved a bill which mandated public health insurance programs to cover medical cannabis expenses and defined how private insurers are allowed to handle these expenses as well (1).

New York State Senator, Diane Savino (D), sponsored the legislation that had to travel through two committees before passing in the Senate by a vote of 53-10. The bill titled, SB S8837, has been transmitted to the Assembly and is currently awaiting action in the Ways & Means Committee.

The new legislation reportedly amends state public health and social services to address the out-of-pocket costs medical cannabis patients have been left to figure out on their own. It is one of the most difficult barriers for patient access and will help provide relief for those who seek it for treatment.

Medical cannabis would be defined as a “prescription drug,” “covered drug,” or “health care service” under the relevant codes so that public health insurance providers, including workers compensation and Medicaid, would be mandated to provide coverage. Although this is a step in the right direction, private and commercial insurers would not be subjected to mandating cannabis coverage and instead have the choice to make coverage optional.

“For thousands of patients, medical marijuana is a safer and more effective medication than other drugs, especially opioids,” a justification memo attached to the bill stated (1). “While it can be prohibitively expensive for many patients, especially in the absence of insurance coverage, it may often be less expensive than what their insurance coverage pays for other medications.”

Savino addressed concerns from fellow lawmakers on the floor ahead of the vote about the potential costs of the legislation and stating that it was time for New York state to lead the way on this issue. “Some state is going to have to force this issue,” Savino said. “I believe that our state is the one that should lead the way on this.”

If the legislation is enacted, public health insurance programs such as, Medicaid, Child Health Plus, Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC), Essential Plan programs, and workers compensation, would be applicable to the proposed policy change.

“Cost is the primary barrier to patient access in New York’s medical marijuana program. Medicaid, other public health plans, and commercial health insurance plans do not cover medical marijuana, forcing patients to pay out of pocket,” the justification memo also stated (1). “Some patients begin treatment only to stop due to inability to pay, while others turn to the black market. Efforts by registered organizations to offer discounts have helped, but are inadequate for many low-income patients.”

While there “would presumably not be federal matching funds until the federal government changes its policies” for programs like Medicaid and Child Health Plus, the memo stated that “New York’s Medicaid and Child Health Plus programs have always covered people and services for which we do not receive federal match.”

Reference

  1. https://www.marijuanamoment.net/new-york-senate-approves-bill-to-mandate-medical-marijuana-health-insurance-coverage/