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Posted in The Green Ace Blog

Nowadays, medical marijuana is used to treat a variety of symptoms associated with a number of health conditions including pains, spasms, appetite loss, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s Disease, wasting syndrome and others. As the public support for medical cannabis is rising every year and more and more patients are using it to alleviate their symptoms, a significant question keeps bothering many in the cannabis community – Is medical marijuana covered by health insurance? We must warn you, the answer is never straightforward. If you are a registered medicinal marijuana user in the states and countries where it has been legalized, this article will explain you the complicated and still evolving relationship between health insurance and medical marijuana.

What is medical marijuana?

Simply speaking, cannabis strains and cannabinoid products used to improve symptoms of various diseases and health or mental conditions are called medical marijuana. In the United States, 33 states and Washington DC have already legalized the use of marijuana and there is a palpable pressure on many others to follow suit. In Canada, it’s been legal under certain conditions since 2001. But in the US, marijuana, both medicinal as well as recreational, is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under the federal laws.

This is a curious paradox: Although some state laws permit the registered use of medical marijuana, it is still illegal under federal laws. For this reason only, even in the states where it is legal, doctors won’t write a ‘prescription’ for medical cannabis. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the US federal government approves the use of ‘purified’ CBD to treat epileptic seizures and oral cannabinoids like dronabinol and nabilone to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. In 2018, the FDA has approved the use of the CBD-derivative prescription drug Epidiolex for treating two extremely rare and serious forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. However, in legal terms, you won’t be able to use cannabis therapeutically unless you have a doctor’s prescription or medical certificate.

Is it covered by medical insurances?

  • The complex legalities of medical marijuana consumption in the US, have an adverse effect on the policies formulated by the health insurance or medicare companies which don’t pay for it even if you have a prescription. Various private and government health insurance packages cover only those prescription drugs that are approved by the FDA. As except for a few products medical cannabis is still not approved by the FDA, you will have to pay it from your own wallet. But, there is an exception to this – if your doctor has prescribed any of the cannabinoid derivative drugs like Epidiolex, Marinol or Cesamet, then there are various healthcare benefits to cover them.
  • The situation in Canada is radically different from the US. Under Canadian laws, the consumption of medical marijuana is perfectly legal and various insurance companies there offer a number of healthcare packages that cover different therapeutic uses of cannabis. Sun Life Financial, Canada’s second-largest insurance company, offers insurance covers for the cost of medical cannabis in treating various pains related to cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea, spasticity from MS and anorexia associated with HIV. The company now offers $1,500-6,000 per person per annum depending on the particular policy and the specific requirements of the patient. Other insurers like Green Shield, Great-West Life, Manulife, etc also pay for the cost of medicinal marijuana which can be pretty expensive at times. A patient can also use various Health Spending Accounts or HSAs to fund their medical cannabis prescriptions. Different workplace benefits plans also cover it.

What makes you eligible to claim health insurance for medical cannabis?

If you are in the United States, you are only eligible to claim medical insurance for those cannabinoid drugs which are cleared by the FDA. In Canada, on the other hand, there are a number of insurance plans that cover the costs of medical cannabis required to treat a variety of symptoms. Generally speaking, pains and nausea related to cancer, neuropathic pains and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and other diseases, anorexia and other HIV related symptoms, pain from rheumatoid arthritis and various palliative care treatments come under the insurance coverage for medical cannabis. However, in both these two countries, you’ll need a prescription from a licensed doctor or a healthcare professional to claim insurance for it.

Where do you get a legal prescription for your medical marijuana?

The complex marijuana laws of the US have made it virtually impossible to get a doctor’s ‘prescription’ for medical cannabis. The doctors can certainly prescribe the FDA approved cannabinoid drugs Marinol, Epidilex, and Cesamet. If you want to buy medical marijuana or cannabinoids in any other form from the legal dispensaries, you’ll require a doctor’s ‘recommendation’ or an ‘authorization certificate’ explaining that you need it to alleviate a certain health condition.

Canadian laws do not stop doctors from prescribing medical marijuana. Any registered healthcare practitioner including doctors as well as nurses can prescribe medical cannabis if they deem so.

It is also a fact that cannabis is still a stigma and not all healthcare professionals share the same beliefs in the efficacy of medical cannabis. You’ll need to find a doctor who believes in these types of alternative treatments and has real expertise in this particular branch of medicine. You can track such doctors through groups like the Medicinal Marijuana Association or various local compassion clubs.

As life-long medication on cannabis can be quite expensive, some sort of financial assistance will be absolutely helpful in this regard. Health insurances, if it is available to you, can certainly provide some relief. With the consumption as well as the industry of medical cannabis growing spectacularly, we can hope for the insurance companies to provide better benefits and packages in this area so that more and more patients can have easy access to cannabis therapy. We hope that the growing public support for medical cannabis and its consequent decriminalization will prompt the insurance companies to offer insurance covers for the therapeutic marijuana users in the near future.

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