The current administration’s history-defining attempt to overhaul the American health care system in order to (supposedly) favor patients over profits, The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), has been a hotly contested point of debate among all Americans. It seems no one is really happy – that is, until you talk to people like me.
Last year, I spent six months without health insurance, and therefore professional medical care. This wouldn’t have been too big of a deal for a healthy woman my age, but I am not healthy. I have Crohn’s disease, and in the absence of the professional health care I needed and was shut out from, I relied heavily on medical marijuana.
Now that I am happily insured again, thanks to Obamacare, I continue to use cannabis to treat my Crohn’s because it works the best.
For 10 years my parents and I had strategized together to keep me on any sort of insurance plan that helped us cover the costs of another drug I thought I was relying on for good health, a drug called Remicade, which I took intravenously every eight weeks since I was 18.
Prior to beginning my Remicade regimen, I had my first and only surgery to remove over a foot of my damaged colon. The next 10 years would be a struggle to stay insured to cover the costs of the drug, which was in the tens of thousands, every eight weeks. After leaving a job I hated with good benefits, I opted to rely on COBRA to help supplement my health insurance – until I got my first monthly bill of $900.
Remicade was approved by the FDA in 1998, I started taking it just seven years later in 2005. Its average wholesale price per patient per visit is about $20,000 and often times I couldn’t get it wholly covered because it was considered an experimental treatment. It has been advertised heavily, mainly for patients with Crohn’s disease but also rheumatoid arthritis and other similar autoimmune conditions.
For fear of losing coverage and access to the drug, I scoured the web to learn my fate. What I learned was that long term use of Remicade was resulting in colon cancer and liver damage, not to mention the drug’s own website happens to mention a few potential side effects such as hepatitis B, lymphoma, tuberculosis and skin cancer.
Remicade is distributed by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), which is currently trading at about $97 a share. Remicade is just one of the many drugs they sell in order to please their stockholders, but not necessarily to heal any actual illnesses.
So when I was forced to become uninsured, I was also thankfully being forced off this terrible drug once and for all.
I, like Sanjay Gupta, doubled down on marijuana in the absence of professional healthcare. Despite my sometimes anxious and paranoid reactions to it, I ate it, drank it, smoked it, vaporized it, bathed in it and rubbed it into my skin. A friend turned me on to Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), and I have never felt better in my entire adult life.
Thanks to Obamacare, I am insured again. I now proudly pay that bill, in full with no subsidy, every single month.
I treat my insurance as preventative care and get the recommended checkups and allow a medical professional to monitor my condition, but I am pharmaceutical free. Please don’t misunderstand, if I absolutely needed a pharmaceutical drug and the benefits outweighed the potential risks, I would take it. Remicade is not that drug; I have cannabis and it works. In fact, cannabis has been proven to put Crohn’s into “complete remission”, not just treat the symptoms.
I would love to publically sing the praises of The Affordable Healthcare Act, but the president I voted for (twice) isn’t supporting me or the millions of sick people like me who have a legitimate need for safe, affordable access to medical marijuana.
Many of us, either turned off by dangerous pharmaceuticals or unable to afford proper healthcare have turned to marijuana and will continue using it regardless of DEA military-style crusades in the streets of our towns and cities, despite the threat of jail time and despite the threat of losing our jobs because it is the only drug that works to treat all our symptoms and won’t kill us prematurely.
And I am not the only one.
“I haven’t had health care in three years,” says Ellen, a medical cannabis patient in Northern California. “I’m realizing the money I am spending on cannabis is a good investment in my health. I would probably be spending more money to see a doctor, pay a co-pay, get a prescription and pay whatever is on top of that.”
Ellen now has insurance through Covered California, the state exchange set up under The Affordable Care Act.
“I have insurance in case of emergencies. I wish it would cover my cannabis,” she says.
Nathan W., also from California, was prescribed ADD/ADHD medications from a very young age. At the age of 18, he decided to stop taking the medications and use medical cannabis instead. Nathan has had lapses in coverage over the years, but is now also signed up for a plan through Covered California.
“Not using pharmaceuticals is a choice I make because I believe there is too much money being made and not enough concrete research/trial before medications are presented. We just try to mask the issue but it never really gets better,” he says.
Andrew Williams credits medical cannabis with preserving his quality of life. He was diagnosed with cyclic vomiting syndrome at the age of 21. The condition is painful and damaging, and has altered much of his adult life. He says he is not sure he likes all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, but feels that the administration should be embracing and accepting marijuana use as medicine.
“I use cannabis every day to help with my early morning stomach aches, and so I don’t have to take Zofran, which makes me lethargic and kills my appetite completely,” says Williams. “I think [the administration] should embrace the fact people are using cannabis, it is working and in many cases better than prescribed pharmaceuticals.”
“The Zofran I am supposed to use is dissolvable but my disability insurance will not cover it and they are $9 to $10 a piece,” Williams says. “I spend roughly $120 to $150 a month on cannabis concentrates.”
Others, like Bobbie Sunshine, say they wish Obamacare helped offset the personal costs of medical cannabis since they have relied on it to get them through without insurance.
“I wish Obamacare would cover the costs [of my medical cannabis],” she says. “I have not had a check-up by a doctor going on four years. I am totally dependent on cannabis and other extract herbs to stay healthy.”
“I think Medicare and Obamacare as well as private insurers should cover cannabis,” says Kitty Greatbanks Miller, a patient and activist in Washington state.
Miller says she is insured now but struggled with coverage for many years; only the marijuana got her through those times.
Regardless of what state they live in, uninsured people all over America are using cannabis as a medicine, yet it remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance with no accepted medical value, one that can still send you to federal prison for possession, use, sale and cultivation.
I have heard rumors that, in the political shelter of a lame duck presidency, President Obama will finally deliver on his campaign promises to end the Drug War in 2016.
Newly eligible voters this year were born in 1996, the year Proposition 215 passed, legalizing medical marijuana in California. This new generation sees medical marijuana as a basic human right, not a junky’s political illusion, and any politician who wishes to stay in office this year would be foolish not to embrace medical cannabis – 86 percent of the nation thinks doctors should be allowed to prescribe it.
In seeking support for The Affordable Care act, the administration would be wise to move faster than 2016 to change policies at federal level, especially with bellwether statistician Nate Silver predicting a Republican resurgence in this year’s midterm elections.
The people Obama wants to hear healthcare success stories from, like me, want him to legalize medical marijuana. I for one refuse to vote for those who are on the wrong side of history, science and human compassion and Obama’s policies on medical marijuana have been conciliatory at best. He has only given what we have demanded from the steps of courthouses and the insides of jail cells.
Are you young and uninsured? Do you use medical cannabis? Tell me about it in the comments, but make sure to tell your politicians about it at the ballot box this year. Tell your friends to vote. Host election result viewing parties and donate what you can, be it time, money or social media capital, to the politicians who promise to do right by you and those you love.
Make sure all Republicans and Democrats know what special interest is the most powerful in the nation – cannabis. The first midterm is this August in Alaska, where a legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot and will likely pass. Find out what and who is on your ballot and make your voice heard.