Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2016
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Author: Fred Gardner


Researchers at the University of Georgia have published a study in 
the July issue of Health Affairs showing that Medicare's prescription 
drug benefit program saves money in states that have legalized 
marijuana for medical use. Authors Ashley Bradford and Dr. David 
Bradford - daughter and father, BTW - calculate that in 2013, 
patients using medical marijuana in 17 states enabled Medicare Part D 
to save US taxpayers $165.2 million that would have been spent on 
prescription drugs. As reported by the university's media office, the 

. combed through data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D 
enrollees from 2010 to 2013, a total of over 87 million 
physician-drug-year observations.

They then narrowed down the results to only include conditions for 
which marijuana might serve as an alternative treatment, selecting 
nine categories in which the Food and Drug Administration had already 
approved at least one medication. These were anxiety, depression, 
glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity.

They chose glaucoma in particular because while marijuana does 
decrease eye pressure caused by the disease by about 25 percent, its 
effects only last an hour. With this disorder, they expected 
marijuana laws-as a result of demand stimulation-to send more people 
to the doctor looking for relief. And because taking marijuana once 
an hour is unrealistic, they expected to see the number of daily 
doses prescribed for glaucoma medication increase.

They were not disappointed. While fewer prescriptions were written 
for the rest of categories-dropping by 1,826 daily doses in the pain 
category and 265 in the depression category, for instance-the number 
of daily doses for glaucoma medication increased by 35.

"It turns out that glaucoma is one of the most Googled searches 
linked to marijuana, right after pain," David Bradford said. 
"Glaucoma is an extremely serious condition" that can lead quickly to 
blindness. "The patient then goes into the doctor, the doctor 
diagnoses the patient with glaucoma, and no doctor is going to let 
the patient walk out without being treated."

The lead author, Ashley Bradford, just finished college while her 
co-author occupies the Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA 
School of Public and International Affairs. David Bradford expressed 
concern in the UGA press release about the hodge-podge of medical 
marijuana distribution systems and doctor-patient relationships:

"Doctors can recommend marijuana and in some states can sign a form 
to help you get a card, but at that point you go out of the medical 
system and into the dispensaries," he said. "What does this mean? Do 
you then go less frequently to the doctor and maybe your 
non-symptomatic hypertension, elevated blood sugar and elevated 
cholesterol go unmanaged? If that's the case, that could be a 
negative consequence to this."

The researchers will explore these consequences further in their next 
study, Ashley Bradford said, which will look at medical marijuana's 
effects on Medicaid, a joint federal and state program that helps 
with medical costs and typically serves an older population.


The Bradfords' collection and analysis of readily available big data 
was simple and straightforward, and the significance of their 
findings cannot be overstated. Millions of Americans will soon be 
using cannabis instead of costly synthetic pharmaceuticals. The big 
private insurers undoubtedly understand, by now, that widespread use 
of cannabis as medicine reduces their payouts. Why aren't they 
pushing against prohibition? Could it be that the insurance companies 
interconnect with the pharmaceutical companies via the banks?

The late Peter Lewis, who donated millions annually to the Marijuana 
Policy Project and to Graham Boyd at the ACLU, built Progressive 
Insurance into one of the industry giants. (It was a small company 
founded by his father. based im Cleveland.) Lewis once told Dennis 
Peron that the key to his success had been a tremendous insight: 
first-time speeders are a good insurance risk. Other insurance 
companies exploited drivers who got speeding tickets by steeply 
raising their rates. Lewis figured first-time speeders were actually 
competent drivers who got over-confident. By offering a relatively 
low rate to drivers with speeding offenses, Progressive snagged a big 
piece of the car-insurance market.

How long will it be until an insurance company factors in the health 
benefits to their clients of cannabis use, plus savings to the 
company in prescription drug costs, and offers a special "420 
Discount?" Will they require documentation of regular, heavy use?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom