While the United States is stuck in an ideological tug of war between pro-cannabis legislation and federal illegality, our neighbors up north are on the path towards full-scale legalization. In fact, Canada’s medical marijuana system is already well established, and some of the country’s insurance companies and pharmacy chains have already opted to provide cannabis coverage to customers and employees.
With recreational legalization set to begin in 2018, more and more medium to large-scale Canadian employers are now considering the inclusion of medical cannabis in employee health benefit plans. A majority of these companies are self-insured, meaning that they typically use insurance companies to administer health benefit plans to employees while paying for the costs of coverage on their own.
However, some Canadian insurance companies have been less inclined to cover marijuana under health insurance policies. According to health industry insider Mike Sullivan, insurance companies are unable to “get their head around how to price the risk of medical cannabis.”
Although medical cannabis may soon become a standard benefit in Canadian health insurance, coverage will still be granted on a case-by-case basis, as it is more complicated in safety-sensitive industries such construction or resource extraction. However, as marijuana is as a safe alternative to prescription opiates and benzodiazepines, it will likely to become more and more appealing to insurers.
"We hear wide-ranging anecdotal reports that are extremely positive from patients, saying that they're going back to work, they're having better family and social lives, they're happier, their symptoms are more manageable, and they're often going off of other pharmaceutical drugs which are all insured," says Jonathan Zaid, the executive director of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana.
In Canada, medical cannabis has solidified itself as an effective treatment for patients battling multiple sclerosis, nausea caused by chemotherapy, and chronic pain. A number of insurance companies are already covering the costs for employees, deducting medical cannabis from the annual amount of money allotted to medical expenses.
Some employers, like the pharmaceutical entity Loblaw Companies, have decided to cover these expenses only for multiple sclerosis and cancer patients. Others, like the LIUNA Local 635 union, have taken a broader approach, promoting medical marijuana as a safer alternative to opioids.
A number of obstacles still remain between Canadian employees, employers, and insurance companies, but progress is definitely being made. As plans to legalize recreational use by 2018 have already been set in motion, the argument against medical cannabis use continues to become null and void.