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Insurers Not Likely to Change Policies on Medical Marijuana

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Health insurers are unlikely to start covering the cost of medical marijuana, even as more states approve its use, The Washington Post reports. Earlier this month, Massachusetts joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Some patients spend hundreds of dollars, or more, each month to purchase marijuana for medical purposes. The drug is classified as a Schedule I narcotic under federal law, meaning it is considered to have no accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse, the article notes.

Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, told the newspaper there are “legal issues in most states,” since it is a federal crime to use marijuana, even in states that allow the drug to be used for medical purposes. She added employers and health plans want to see stronger scientific evidence that marijuana is as safe and effective as other drugs in treating conditions such as pain or nausea, before they would agree to cover it.

In October, the marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access asked a federal appeals court to force the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to hold a hearing to consider research on the drug’s benefits. The group wants marijuana reclassified so it is no longer considered a dangerous drug with no medical value.

Since 1970, when marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug, marijuana advocates have twice petitioned the DEA to consider reclassifying it. The DEA turned down the most recent petition in 2011, saying there was no scientific consensus on the medical benefits of the drug. Marijuana has many chemical components that are not well understood, the agency stated.

Two of the three judges hearing the case said they could not overturn the DEA’s decision unless they found it to be “arbitrary and capricious.” The third judge said that even if they changed the classification of marijuana, it would still be illegal.

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