Cannabis Health Insurance: Will Weed Ever Be Covered?
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states and Washington DC. But what options are there for patients to be reimbursed for their medicine under these legal programs? In this article, we take a look at cannabis health insurance, how it works in other parts of the world, and what’s needed to introduce it on our own turf.
Medical Marijuana Coverage In The US
Health insurance plans in the US currently don’t cover medical marijuana. That’s because cannabis is still listed as a controlled and illegal substance under federal law. In order for any kind of medication to be covered by US health insurance providers, it first needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Hence, until the federal government reclassifies cannabis, health insurance providers won’t go near it.
For now, some US health care providers (like Cigna, for example) do cover some cannabis alternatives, like dronabinol (Marinol) and nabilone (Cesamet) for patients with specific conditions. However, states that have legalized medical cannabis do try to help lower the cost of medicine for patients.
Alternatives To Health Coverage For US Medical Marijuana Patients
Some states, like Nevada for example, offer tax exemptions for registered medical marijuana patients. Patients who register with the state’s program are automatically exempt from the 10% sales tax applied to all marijuana products sold in the state. California has a similar system, too.
Last year, New York State also reinforced its demands on health insurers to cover consultations that include medical marijuana certifications. In a statement issued in April 2017, New York State’s Department Of Financial Solutions reminded health insurers that:
“They must provide coverage for office visits for covered services, including those that may result in a medical marijuana certification, as long as the visit was not solely for the purpose of the certification.”
Some states may also offer Worker’s Compensation for medical marijuana patients. In January last year, for example, a New Jersey judge ordered an insurance company to pay for the medical marijuana for a worker injured on the job. In New Mexico, patients injured on the job who receive a valid prescription to use medical cannabis must also be reimbursed by their Worker’s Compensation.
While these alternatives aren’t the same as offering cannabis health insurance to all medical marijuana users, they may help patients in some states cut the costs of their treatment. If you use cannabis medicinally, make sure to consult the laws in your states and consider enrolling in your local MMJ program for possible discounts on your medicine.
Medical Marijuana Coverage In Canada
If you’re a medical marijuana patient looking for full, no-out-of-pocket costs cannabis health insurance coverage of your medicine, you may want to move up north. In Canada, some insurers are required to cover medical marijuana.
In February 2017, a worker from Nova Scotia suffering from a work-related injury managed to get his health care provider to foot the bill for his medicine. Gordon "Wayne" Skinner, who was injured in an on-the-job motor vehicle accident and left with chronic pain, was denied coverage for medical marijuana 3 times by his health care provider. He decided to take the matter to court, where he argued that he faced discrimination by not receiving coverage for his medicine.
The chair of the human rights inquiry board managing the case voted in favor of Skinner, arguing that, since medical marijuana requires a prescription by law, it doesn't fall within the exclusions of his insurance plan.The provider was left to foot the bill for the full amount of Skinner’s prescription. Following Skinner’s case, Canadian health experts expect many more workers to seek cannabis health insurance in the form of compensation for medical marijuana from their health care providers.
Medical cannabis is also currently covered under a Health Spending Account, an alternative to traditional health coverage that exclusively covers a person and his/her dependents.
What’s In Store For The Future?
Unfortunately, if you live in the US and you’re not quite ready to move to the great white North, your options are limited (at least for now). Until the US federal government recognizes cannabis as a medicine and reclassifies the drug, cannabis health insurance seems like a far-fetched dream. Until then, we recommend getting up to speed with the local laws in your states and enrolling in a medical marijuana program to be eligible for tax exemptions.
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