With the federal government set to legalize recreational cannabis by July 2018, advocates are calling for Health Canada to work toward creating insurance coverage for medical marijuana, starting with properly classifying the substance.
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Standard health insurance typically does not cover for the cost of medical cannabis, with the exception of limited coverage for veterans and patients with healthcare spending accounts.
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“Every patient comes in and is kind of wondering the same thing. Can we be covered; will we be covered?” Natural Health Services community outreach director Kait Shane, whose Calgary-based company prescribes medical cannabis treatment to patients, told CBC.
Shane pointed out that marijuana – as a medical treatment – lacks a proper drug identification number; a classification that all new drugs must undergo that involves an extensive and rigorous approval process by Health Canada. Without this designation, health insurers cannot recognize cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment that can be covered.
“It’s a matter of lobbying . . . to get Health Canada to recognize it’s not feasible for them to go through the same trials as other drugs,” Shane told CBC, further explaining that unlike other narcotics, cannabis has been used as a medical treatment for a long time.
Shane also warned that failing to insure medical marijuana could alienate those who cannot afford the drug through licensed producers.
“High costs currently push many patients to seek alternative options through illegal avenues with zero testing protocols,” she elaborated. “The lack of testing could put a patient’s health at risk.”
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Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association director of health policy Joan Weir said that although there is work being done to give marijuana a DIN, progress has been slow.
“There’s not a lot of good research on the impact of adding medical marijuana to your drug program,” Weir told CBC. “So there needs to be a fair bit more research to make employers comfortable on including it as a benefit.”
On the other hand, Weir noted that some employers have already offered coverage for the drug, on top of their group insurance.
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