Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada for 17 years, and yet, most insurers still don’t cover it. Thankfully, the industry is starting to re-evaluate their stance. Here’s the latest on the state of medical cannabis and health insurance in Canada.
Current Laws Regarding Medical Cannabis
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2001 under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). MMAR required that patients apply for a license from the government and severely restricted the use of medical marijuana.
In 2014, Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) replaced MMAR, loosening some of the restrictions. The program was short-lived because of court challenges, however, and was replaced by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which is still active today.
ACMPR allows patients more freedom regarding where they get their medical cannabis. Under ACMPR, patients may attain medical marijuana from a licensed producer or they may grow their own. In order to grow their own medicine, patients must apply for a license to grow a limited amount of cannabis for themselves.
Medical cannabis can be prescribed for a variety of symptoms and conditions, though, it is up to a physician to determine the course of treatment. Sometimes, medical marijuana is viewed as a last resort after pharmaceutical drugs have failed to alleviate symptoms. As research into medical marijuana grows, this will hopefully change in order to better serve those patients who would benefit from medical cannabis or cannabis oil.
Conditions and symptoms that may warrant a medical marijuana prescription include nausea and pain from cancer, epilepsy, mood disorders, gastrointestinal illnesses, muscular sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s, and more.
Where Insurers Stand
Recently, Sun Life Financial stated that they will be offering some prescription coverage for medical cannabis patients. In addition, Markers Insurance announced in June that they will begin offering plans that cover medical cannabis in August. Sun Life’s plan, however, only covers medical cannabis for certain symptoms and conditions that are associated with MS, cancer, HIV-AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and palliative care. This plan leaves many patients without coverage for serious conditions such as epilepsy or mood disorders.
While Sun Life and Markers are offering individual coverage, some insurers have worked with employers to offer medical cannabis coverage as part of a group plan on a group by group basis. Green Shield Canada, Manulife Financial Corp, and Great-West Life are all considering adding cannabis coverage, with the latter expecting to begin this year.
With these recent announcements, many people are asking why this is only happening now. Part of the answer lies in the result of Veterans Affairs Canada’s medical cannabis coverage.
When the agency introduced coverage in 2008, they offered to cover 10 grams a day. They didn’t limit the conditions or the price of the cannabis. Perhaps predictably, their costs soared and they have to enact some restrictions to cut costs, namely offering coverage for only 3 grams a day at a cost of $8.50 a gram.
In addition to costs, a lack of research on the effectiveness of cannabis has made insurers trepidations about offering coverage. Because of previous laws restricting the sale and use of any marijuana in Canada and across most of the world, scientific research into the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment is few and far between.
What the Future May Hold
With more places allowing for the medical use of cannabis, research will be easier to perform. This knowledge base may provide more reliable information for both physicians and insurers, allowing them to make better choices for patients. Research may help with prescription guidelines and more clearly illustrate the benefits of medical marijuana over other prescription drugs. Many insurers across Canada are considering adding medical marijuana coverage; new research may be the impetus they need to do so.
For many patients, medical cannabis and cannabis oil have already proved useful. Regardless of whether or not their insurers cover medical marijuana, they will continue to use it to manage their symptoms as necessary. Hopefully, more insurers will recognize the benefits of providing coverage for these patients and join Sun Life and Markers in offering it.