Medicaid and Cannabis: State Program Unaffordable Unless U.S. Legalizes Weed

Matt Weeks October 2, 2018 0 comments

If people had free access to medical cannabis, it could lead to better healthcare and a stronger economy.

Medicaid spending rises every year — and it’s expected to outpace GDP growth in the next decade. That’s bad news for the American economy — and American health care. The good news is that we can stop it, but it would mean legalizing cannabis.

That’s because Americans with access to medical cannabis use fewer prescription drugs. That’s true for Americans on Medicaid as well. A peer-reviewed article in the journal Health Affairs (2017) estimates that the U.S. could save more than $1 billion on Medicaid spending alone if the federal government granted Medicaid beneficiaries access to medical cannabis.

Clearly, medical cannabis works. When patients are able to consume medical cannabis, they tend to not need to spend money on dozens of other pain suppressors, appetite stimulants, anti-inflammatories, etc.

The Medicaid Spending Problem

So why won’t the U.S. government save itself some money and give access to those most in need? It’s not because our legislators don’t see the problem. The country clearly realizes that Medicaid spending is getting out of control. Legislators at the state and national levels have plans to rein in spending, but the results have, so far, been abysmal.

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In 2017, under a Republican plan in Iowa, the state hired private companies to manage Medicaid, declaring that removing the government administration would drive down healthcare costs. Instead, the price of insuring an Iowan on Medicaid has nearly tripled, according to a non-partisan accounting agency.

It’s no better at the federal level. The Trump administration’s plan to include work requirements for Medicaid will also drive up national Medicaid spending. This is thanks to the increased government oversight that will be necessary to monitor those requirements and submit them, according to Forbes. And, even if the program were applied exactly without incurring costs, savings would be miniscule.

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Do the People Want Medical Cannabis Legalized?

But, if legislators see the problem, American people see the solution. Nearly sixty five percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis, according to a October 2017 Gallup poll and ninety three percent are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. It seems the will of a country isn’t enough to bend a government to its wishes.

That’s in part thanks to some shady election maneuvering that ensures that some Americans have more say than others over who their elected leaders are (read: it’s gerrymandering). And it’s partially because many congressional representatives take in so much money from industries like Big Pharma that would be hurt by legalization that they’re unwilling to bite the hand that feeds them.

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And, let’s face it, saving money isn’t high on Congress’s to-do list. So far this session, they’ve voted to explode the federal deficit and cut social welfare programs.

More than that, Medicaid is very popular among all Americans except one key demographic: conservative politicians. So political motivation could lead to rejecting ideas. Medicaid expansion was one of the strongest pillars of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the party in power may want to tarnish the legacy of legislation they have bemoaned for years.

Or maybe not. Here’s another idea: Maybe our elected leaders are playing the wait-and-see game. Canada has had very few problems with medical cannabis. It now plans to launch full cannabis legalization in October, opening up a tremendous marketplace of new consumers. The launch of full legalization will effectively make cannabis an over-the-counter kind of medicine, which has great implications for consumers and industry.

What Does the Future Hold for Medicaid and Cannabis?

Once big companies master how to make money in the Canadian cannabis market, they’ll find ways to weasel into the American system as well. Especially in healthcare. It is already popular. It’s already easy with so many states passing medical cannabis laws so the framework for new laws already exists. It’s just a matter of a quick copy-paste job.

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If the solution to a political problem is easy, popular, and lucrative, there’s a good chance it can happen politically. We already know that it’s easy and popular. All that’s left is for someone with deep pockets and political connections to find a way to enrich themselves from it.

And to be clear, Medicaid is just one part of a problematic system. Americans spend more on health care than anyone else in the world — and they don’t get their money’s worth. Annually, the U.S. spends 17.7 percent of the economy or $2.8 trillion on health care. That’s roughly $8,500 per person. Saving a bit on that price tag would not only be great for America’s economy, but also for sick Americans. It’s a win-win.

Author avatar

Matt Weeks

A writer living and working in Athens, GA, Matt's work has appeared in various newspapers, books, magazines and online publications over the last 15 years. When he's not writing, he hosts bar trivia, plays in local bands, and makes a mean guacamole. He holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in organizational theory. His favorite movie is "Fletch."