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High costs discourage medical marijuana coverage in Canada despite legalization

High costs discourage medical marijuana coverage in Canada despite legalization

Dina Al-Shibeeb
medical marijuana coverage

High costs are discouraging insurance companies to give medical marijuana coverage despite the legalization of the green herb for medicinal purposes in Canada since 2001, Reuters reported.

High costs to reimburse or give coverage to Canadians with medical marijuana needs could explain Veterans Affairs Canada’s change of hearts too.

Veteran Affairs of Canada, which used to generously give medical marijuana coverage since 2008, changed from giving 10 grams of medical cannabis per day to its members in need to 3 grams a day.

The change came after skyrocketing costs mushrooming from C$19,088 in fiscal 2009 up to C$63.7 million in the year ended March 2017.

This meant that reimbursements dropped to C$51 million in the year ended March 2018, Reuters reported.

“If I was working for any other company, and I was their medical director, I would say do not reimburse,” Cyd Courchesne, chief medical officer at Veterans Affairs Canada, told Reuters. 

Sun Life Financial, Canada’s No. 2 insurer made headlines in February when it announced that it will be covering medical marijuana. However, its coverage stipulates employers to pay a premium and extends only to a handful of conditions as the last resort.

“It’s not medical marijuana for any purpose,” Dave Jones, senior vice-president of group benefits at Sun Life, told Reuters. “It’s for specific conditions and symptoms where the evidence is clear that medical cannabis has enough value to outweigh risks.”

So far, Sun Life covers pain emanating from diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV. It also deals with palliative care for serious illnesses, chemotherapy-induced nausea, spasticity from MS, and anorexia due to HIV.

Medical marijuana coverage in demand

However, some insurers are beginning to cover marijuana as demand for medical cannabis is increasing especially on the backdrop of the imminent legalization of recreational cannabis nationwide on Oct. 17.

Green Shield Canada, Great-West Life and Manulife Financial Corp. are all insurance companies that are mulling future medical marijuana coverage.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Manulife told Reuters that his company recommends an annual reimbursement limit from C$1,500 to C$2,500 and covers only a handful of conditions.  

So far, Manulife offers marijuana coverage for a few companies that requested it.

Lack of research

Great-West is also expecting to begin offering medical cannabis coverage this year, but only when confident it will both improve health outcomes and hold down costs for employers, Reuters reported.

Insurers say the lack of research on cannabis makes them less hesitant to give full coverage.

Courchesne said”

“We do not have enough information right now.” 

Brad Fedorchuk, a senior vice-president, said Great-West will be interested in covering marijuana when it proves to be more effective than addictive pharmaceuticals such as opioids.

In 2017, Grocery chain Loblaw last year became the first major Canadian company to ask its insurers to cover medical marijuana.

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