An increasing number of patients are accessing medical cannabis plans on Medicare, with the Department of Health claiming it will be a “game changer” for the Medicare health system.

Dr Peter Waddell, Chief Executive Officer of the Health Care Quality Council, said patients and their providers will have access to an alternative treatment option, and the benefits are being designed to be as comparable to what is available on the Medicare drug benefit.

“Medicare will benefit from the introduction of the new Medicare Medical Cannabis program, as will patients and providers, and it will also be a game changer for Medicare, and for all Medicare patients,” Dr Waddel said.

The Department of Human Services said the benefits include access to a range of treatments, from cancer treatment to pain management, and will allow Medicare to reduce costs and improve care.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Peter Dutton said the announcement of the benefits came as a result of a consultation on the introduction.

Medicare benefits to cover up to six months’ cannabis use for cancer treatmentDr Waddelle said it was important for the community to be aware of the impact the changes would have on patients.

While the changes to the drug benefit will not affect Medicare, it is possible some of the cannabis patients could still be covered by other benefits.

But the spokesperson said it is “not possible” to predict how many people would benefit from this new approach.

Currently, patients and doctors are eligible for a Medicare drug benefits package that includes cannabis.

That package is designed to cover a maximum of six months of cannabis use, with an option to extend the plan.

Patients who meet certain criteria will also qualify for a cannabis supplement, which is a medication that can help to control side effects of cannabis, such as nausea, headaches and appetite.

They will be able to take it for up to 12 weeks from the date of application, provided the supplement has not been used.

For people who do not meet criteria, patients will be given the option to purchase cannabis capsules that contain up to two ounces of cannabis. 

Dr Waddy said the changes could potentially see some patients qualify for cannabis supplements at the same time as others.

He said while it is important for patients to be informed, it was also important for them to be able choose the right option for themselves.