Medical marijuana patients in Canada can obtain health insurance cover but these are more than not limited to specified ailments or monetary ceilings.
The main reason for the reluctance by insurance companies to offer medical cover for marijuana users is the lack of sufficient research to back-up claims that weed is an effective treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.
Another major cause for concern is that medical marijuana is expensive and, in many cases, costs more than prescribed pharmaceuticals.
Which companies do offer weed insurance
Canadian companies offering medical cover include:
Sun Life Financial
This company is the second-largest insurer in Canada and only recently started underwriting medical cover for marijuana patients. However, its cover is restricted to:
- Cancer, associated pain and nausea induced by chemotherapy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- HIV and associated anorexia
- Palliative care for serious illnesses
Sun Life’s senior vice-president of group benefits, Dave Jones, says cover is restricted to only those conditions and symptomswhere it has been proven that medical marijuana outweighs financial risks.
Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC)
VAC has been insuring medical marijuana patients since 2008 but soaring costs have forced the company to drastically reduce the dosages it is prepared to pay.
At the outset, VAC covered up to 10 grams a day and did not impose any financial ceilings. However, when costs soared from C$19,088 million in 2009 to C$63.7 million in 2017, the company had no option but to impose restrictions, limiting daily dosages to 3 grams at a total cost of $25.50 a day. This move saw their reimbursement plummet to C$51 million in the financial year ending in March 2018.
VAC’s chief medical officer, CydCourchesne, puts the blame for the misuse of marijuana on those doctors who fail to examine their patients. She also expresses concern about the lack of research into the efficacy ofmedical marijuana.
Manulife Financial Corp
Manulife restricts its annual marijuana cover to between C$1,500 and C$2,500, and that is only for a handful of medical conditions.
Insurers that are considering medical cover
This insurance company could start offering cover for medical marijuana before the end of the year. However, its plans are on hold until it is satisfied that the move with improve the health of its members and reduce costs for cover paid for by employers. Great-West Life’s senior vice-president, Brad Fedorchuk, says the company is most interested in marijuana treatments that are more effective than addictive prescription drugs.
Green Shield Canada is also planning to offer insurance cover for medical cannabis.
Other insurance industry comments
Analytics insurance company, Cubic Health, says the high cost of marijuana treatment makes it important for insurance companies to scrutinize the medical conditions they are prepared to cover. Cubic Health’s chief executive officer, Mike Sullivan, uses the pharmaceutical muscle relaxant, Baclofen, as an example. This medication costs C$28.82 for a 10-day supply, compared to the average daily dosages of marijuana of between 0.68 grams and 1.5 grams a day at a cost of C$8 per gram. Sullivan also says that if insurance companies have to start covering marijuana treatments for less serious ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorder or insomnia, controlling costs would become extremely difficult.
A word of warning
The Canadian Medical Association has also issued a word of warning to its members to proceed with care because of the lack of evidence to support medical cannabis treatment. The organization’s vice president for medical professionalism, Jeff Blackmer, says that he personally had authorized medical marijuana for two of his patients with little positive results.
The need for more research into the efficacy of marijuana to treat a wide spectrum of medical conditions is gaining momentum in Canada. The country’s booming pot industry has accelerated government-funding for research, as well as for the creation of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.
Canadians can legallyfund their supplies with cash from their health-care spending accounts that are financed by their employers.
Canadians also enjoy free visits to doctors and free medication that is funded by provincial governments.
To date, studies have revealed that marijuana can reduce dependency on opioids but an article published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine disputes those findings.
The country’s Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities advocates that physicians only prescribe marijuana to those patients that have an established relationship with their practice.