In early April, the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would decriminalize cannabis on the federal level for both recreational and medical use.
Currently, the use of cannabis products for medical purposes is legal in 37 states, four territories and the District of Columbia. However, because cannabis is both illegal at the federal level and in most cases, not FDA-approved, health insurance doesn’t pay for medical marijuana.
Should this status change, the next question is whether health insurance plans should cover cannabis products and treatments. In April, MedicarePlans.com posed this question to 1,250 recipients of Medicare. Our survey found that seniors are embracing medical cannabis as a treatment for a variety of conditions, and are largely in favor of expanding Medicare coverage to include medical marijuana.
- 1 in 5 Medicare recipients currently use medical marijuana
- 23% have used medical marijuana in the past
- 66% of Medicare recipients ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ that Medicare should cover medical marijuana
- 38% of Medicare recipients who use medical marijuana don’t want Medicare coverage because they fear it will increase the price
- 59% of those who support Medicare coverage for medical marijuana say it’s because medical marijuana can be effective where other treatments fail
More than 4 in 10 Medicare recipients currently or previously use medical marijuana
Twenty-one percent of Medicare recipients report currently using medical marijuana to treat one or more medical conditions. An additional 23% have used medical marijuana in the past, while 56% have never used cannabis to treat medical conditions.
Individuals who also use marijuana recreationally are more likely to use medical cannabis. Thirty-nine percent of recreational marijuana users also currently use marijuana for medical reasons, while 28% of these individuals previously used medical cannabis.
Democratic politicians have largely been the driving force behind legalization efforts, and our survey found that Medicare recipients who identify as Democrats are more likely than Republicans to currently use medical marijuana.
Twenty-one percent of Democrats currently use medical marijuana, as do 20% of respondents who identify as independent, belonging to a third party, or apolitical. By comparison, 14% of Republican Medicare recipients currently use medical marijuana.
Users are turning to medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions both mental and physical. Thirty-two percent of Medicare recipients who use medical marijuana are doing so to treat anxiety, while 31% are using it for chronic pain.
Roughly one-fourth of medical marijuana users are turning to the substance to treat depression, glaucoma, and symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS, including nausea, appetite loss, and pain.
Support for Medicare coverage for cannabis lowest among medical marijuana users
Despite medical marijuana’s popularity among Medicare recipients, the prospect of getting Medicare to cover cannabis-related products and treatments is divisive.
Among all Medicare recipients, 33% ‘strongly agree’ that Medicare should cover medical marijuana and 33% ‘agree.’ Meanwhile, 18% ‘disagree’ with the idea of Medicare coverage for medical marijuana, while 16% ‘strongly disagree.’
However, when broken down by usage, only 56% of respondents who currently use medical marijuana agree or strongly agree that Medicare should cover it, compared to 63% of those who previously used medical marijuana, and 71% of those who have never used it.
The gap in support between current, former, and non-medical marijuana users is wider than it is among those of different political affiliations.
Seventy-one percent of Democrats agree or strongly agree that Medicare should cover medical marijuana, as do 65% of Republicans, and 63% of independents, third-party members, and apolitical individuals.
Users worry about price increases if insurance covers medical marijuana
When asked why they’re not in favor of Medicare coverage for medical marijuana, 38% of users say it’s because they fear the price will increase once insurance and pharmaceutical companies get involved in the distribution of the products.
The amount that current medical marijuana users are paying out of pocket for their treatments varies. Half of current users report spending up to $200 per month, while 36% spend between $201 and $500 per month. Fourteen percent say they spend over $500 each month on medical marijuana.
While it’s not a certainty that prices for medical marijuana would increase if insurance carriers and pharmaceutical companies got involved, given the well-documented cases of prescription drug price gouging, this may be a valid concern.
Additionally, 31% of medical marijuana users who don’t support Medicare coverage say it’s both because the long-term impacts of using medical marijuana are still unknown, and that research into medical marijuana’s uses and effectiveness is still lacking.
Half of users want medical marijuana covered by Medicare because it’s a multi-purpose treatment
Meanwhile, among those who want medical marijuana coverage included with Medicare, the reasons vary according to use.
Among those who currently use medical marijuana, 48% cite the wide variety of uses for cannabis, including reducing pain and inflammation, increasing appetite, and improving sleep.
Seventy percent of seniors who’ve never used medical marijuana want it covered by Medicare because it can be effective when other treatments fail.
For those who previously used medical marijuana and support Medicare coverage, the top reason is it’s a natural remedy, as opposed to synthetic pharmaceuticals, with 48% of respondents in this category selecting this answer.
7 in 10 Medicare recipients want Medicare to cover non-drug pain treatments
Medical marijuana isn’t the only non-pharmaceutical seniors would like to see Medicare cover, particularly when it comes to treating chronic pain, which is a condition that afflicts 66% of respondents.
Twenty-six percent of chronic pain sufferers currently manage their pain exclusively with non-drug treatments, while 22% use a mix of non-drug and pharmaceutical treatments.
Among those who use non-drug interventions for chronic pain, the most popular methods include relaxation therapy (32%), meditation (27%), physical therapy (27%), and massage therapy (24%).
Currently, the only one of these treatments Medicare covers is physical therapy. Sixty-nine percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that Medicare should expand its coverage to include more non-drug treatments for chronic pain.
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by MedicarePlans.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 Americans ages 65 and older were surveyed. To qualify for the survey, each respondent had to currently have health insurance through Medicare. Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s screening tools and a screening question. This survey was conducted from April 1-2, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Content Marketing Specialist Kristen Scatton at [email protected].