Canadian Health Insurance Co. Says Yes to Covering Cannabis Costs
As Canada’s medical marijuana program takes shape, one insurance provider is getting with the times, and others are expected to follow suit.
Published on May 16, 2016

If the presidential election here in the United States is getting you a bit down, perhaps you’ve thought about high-tailing it to Canada.

Our neighbors north of the border really do live a charmed life, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that under Canada’s medical marijuana program, there’s now a health insurance company that reimburses the cost of cannabis for patients as part of their insurance coverage.

You heard that right — free cannabis is now possible for Canadians covered by Sun Life insurance. It’s a sign of quickly-changing perceptions of cannabis in North America, and other insurance companies are expected to follow suit.

The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) passed in June of 2013, creating a for-profit commercial structure for medical cannabis producers and retailers.

These regulations also ensure that any sick Canadian in need of treatment can access cannabis that’s been grown in a safe and sterile environment.  

Here’s the only issue: while the vast majority of prescription medications are fully covered under HealthCanada, the nation’s single-payer health care program, cannabis is not one of those drugs.

The legality of adult cannabis use in Canada still lends to some confusion, as it’s technically still illegal unless you have proper documentation and registration with a cannabis provider under MMPR. That explains why it’s not on the same level as approved prescription drugs that typically get covered by insurance.

Now, the actual cost of patients’ medical marijuana can be covered if the insurance provider sees fit, which is exactly what happened in the case of University of Waterloo student Jonathan Zaid. Through his student union health plan, he requested reimbursement of the money he spent on legal MMPR cannabis from Bedrocan during 2015—and Sun Life agreed that this was a valid form of medical expense.

According to Marijuana Biz Daily, Zaid has already been reimbursed around $2000 for cannabis flowers and a vaporizer purchased last year.

In spite of adult use still being illegal, Canada is going to great lengths to integrate MMPR into its existing health care system. Directly from the Health Canada website, you can learn all kinds of things about medical cannabis treatments, from an FAQ section to a list of approved, licensed businesses in the industry.

Of course, they boast a “strict and rigorous application process” that’s meant to curb abuse of the program.

All this, while dozens of U.S. states are still arguing to decide whether or not this plant even has a purpose in the preservation of human health. The contrast in health policy is astounding.

Medical conditions covered by the MMPR program range from eating or sleep disorders to cancer and brain trauma. Stipulations on precisely who is “sick enough” to receive medical cannabis are fairly similar to what patients in, say, California might be used to, but more official medical documentation is required.

In terms of normalizing cannabis as a medicine, this new development is paving the way for more Canadian private insurance companies to start covering the costs.

It’s also quite likely to spark significant interest in MMPR participation among Canadians, as the cost of cannabis treatment is a sizable obstacle for many individuals struggling with chronic health issues.

Don’t get too excited, Americans. Gaining permanent residency and citizenship in Canada is not instantaneous. If you are looking for quick access to legal, medical-grade cannabis, you are likely much better off advocating for safe access in the state where you live.

Roni Stetter
Roni is a long-time cannabis advocate who has been involved in the community since her days with California's 2010 legalization campaign. A former high school athlete who successfully treated her sports injuries with medical marijuana, she now promotes the health movement on her own blog. When not writing or researching on the web, you can find her at a drum and bass show, hanging out with her dog and cat, or otherwise living the simple San Diego beach life. See what else Roni is up to on her website
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