Medical marijuana legal in N.Y., but will insurance pay for it?

Sep 1, 2014

Marijuana has been approved in New York for medicinal uses for people with certain ailments, but that doesn’t mean using it will be simple.

It’s a bit of a going-nowhere-fast loop when it comes to health insurance providers offering coverage for medicinal marijuana.

Here’s the thing: At the federal level, marijuana is still considered an illegal, Schedule 1 narcotic. That’s despite New York being the 23rd state to legalize it for medical use.

"A Schedule 1 classification basically means that the drug is considered to have a high potential for abuse and that there is no accepted medical use," said professor Thomas Dennison, the former director of Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate Medical University’s joint public health program.

And if a drug is classified as Schedule 1, then the Food and Drug Administration can’t test it and approve it for use.

"So until the FDA pushes forward and reclassifies it, it’s going to be very hard for people to study it," he said. "That research can take a long time and cost a lot of money."

And if the FDA doesn’t approve a drug, then health insurance providers aren’t going pay for it.

New York state’s medical pot program is going to be tightly controlled and administered through hospitals, Dennison said, which could make it more difficult for patients to get the drug.

Some synthetic marijuana drugs, like Marinol, are approved by the FDA for treatment of nausea.