Medical marijuana survey shows patients struggle with high cost

Published: Jun. 8, 2016 at 6:03 PM CDT
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Customers are counting down the days until Moorhead’s medical marijuana dispensary opens. Early feedback from Minnesotans, who are already prescribed, is that it works, when they can afford it.

Moorhead’s medical cannabis clinic is set to open on June 18th. It’s one of only eight locations in the state where patients can get the drug. New survey results from the Minnesota Department of Health say 90% of the patients currently in the program report mild to significant benefits. However, 73% of patients say the cost is not affordable.

The 107 page survey includes feedback from patients and doctors. About 20% of those who responded said the cost was the most harmful aspect. Valley News Live talked with the CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions about the cost and what is being done to make it more affordable.

One patient taking medical marijuana for cancer says “the cost is high and month to month I do not know if I will be able to afford a month’s supply.”

“What people are comparing it to is a $7 copay that they have at the pharmacy to buy a bottle of an opiate like Percocet and there is no way without insurance coverage that we can compete with those prices," said Kyle Kingsley.

Kyle Kingsley is a doctor and the CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions. It’s one of two state-wide providers that grow marijuana and refine it into pills and liquids. He said prices average about $250 per month for patients but can go as high as $1000.

"It depends on the patient conditions and the exact medication they need," Kingsley explained.

Discounts are given to those on Medicare. The Department of Health says they do not set prices for medical marijuana and that no insurance company in Minnesota covers the treatment.

“What we are doing is federally illegal and that is something that insurance policies are not going to develop a policy on something that is federally illegal until we see some substantial changes," said Kingsley.

Kingsley admitted medical marijuana does not work for everybody, but come August, the program can take on more patients: those suffering from severe pain could qualify. The state is allowing patients suffering from intractable pain, known to many as severe pain, which other drugs don’t work for to qualify for the program.

"As more and more patients enroll in the program we anticipate there will be better economy to bring the prices down but you know for some people when the alternative is $7 copay it is never going to financially feasible for them," said Kingsley.

It’s important to note that this survey was voluntary and conducted just three months into the program. Nearly 250 people and 94 doctors responded. As of today, the Department of Health website said there are more than 14 hundred patients and nearly 600 doctors enrolled in Minnesota’s registry. The numbers of both patients and doctors have doubled since the survey was conducted.

In the survey, 12 patients said they were able to reduce their pain medication dosage when taking marijuana. Six people specifically mentioned a decrease of opioid use.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota released the following statement;

“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota does not cover medical marijuana at this time. Because medical marijuana has not received FDA approval for any indication, it is not generally covered. While there appears to be some promise for specific conditions, greater evidence, rigor and federal approval need to take place before medical marijuana can be considered for health plan coverage.”