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Medical Marijuana, Obamacare Come Out Winners in 2012 Elections

By November 7, 2012

I highlighted several key policy issues and ballot questions for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and student pharmacists on the eve of Election 2012.

Here's how voters nationally and in the relevant states decided on matters that will affect pharmacy practice for years and decades to come.

Obamacare, Medicare & Medicaid

With the reelection of President Barack Obama, community pharmacists and health-system/long-term care practitioners must continue preparing for full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Republicans who remain in control of the U.S. House of Representatives may try again, more than once, to derail the law known as Obamacare. It is also possible that Obama could team with the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate to push for Medicaid changes or a "public option" health insurance plan envisioned in early versions of the legislative package.

Developments definitely on schedule to occur are the closing of the donut hole under Part D, encouragement of accountable care organizations and medical homes for seniors and Medicaid beneficiaries, and enforcement of the health insurance mandate. More patients with health coverage should mean, if nothing else, more prescription orders to fill.

To partially ensure that state coffers will be able to meet any kind of growth in demand for government-sponsored health services, voters in Louisiana and Alabama this election cycle approved state constitutional amendments requiring funding of Medicaid trust funds.

Medical Marijuana

The nebulizer shown in the background makes breathing in smoke easier.I muffed this a little in my earlier overview. Electorates in only three states voted on the status of medical marijuana on Nov. 6, 2012. Of those, Arkansans voted no, Montanans approved restrictions on formerly legalized medicinal cannabis, and people in Massachusetts voted yes to permit patients to acquire marijuana doses.

Laws on allowing medicinal use of cannabis are pending in the legislatures of Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Passages of those bills seems unlikely before the end of this year.

I apologize for creating confusion and have updated the earlier information.

Just Marijuana

Colorado and Washington voters took a further step by fully decriminalizing recreational marijuana use. The proposals differ slightly but boil down to having state lawmakers, police and tax collectors treat cannabis like alcohol and cigarettes. Federal challenges to the states' laws are practically guaranteed.

Oregonians, a little surprisingly to me, voted down a referendum to fully legalize marijuana.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Last, a proposed Massachusetts law that would have required participation by pharmacists in physician-assisted suicide appears headed to defeat. No pharmacist would have had to dispense a lethal medication dose against hos or her will, but the language of the bill considered by voters made it clear that doctors could not dispense life-ending dosages directly.

With 93 precincts reporting as of 9 am EST, Nov. 7, the measure had 1,396,704 No votes, compared with 1,358,476 Yes votes. If that majority holds, Washington and Oregon would remain the only states permitting patients to take their own lives after consulting with physicians and receiving prescriptions.

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