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California enacted the nation’s first voter-approved medical marijuana program in 1996. If you’re counting, that’s 23 years ago. And yet, no major health insurance companies offer insurance plans covering medical marijuana (MMJ) purchases in California or any other state. For patients with severe medical issues, this creates financial hardships, especially for low-income individuals.
Federal Prohibition and Medical Marijuana Insurance
Insurance companies are licensed and regulated by individual states. However, the companies must also comply with federal law, and marijuana remains classified as a prohibited Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means it has no medicinal value, and in most cases cannot be officially prescribed by traditional medical practitioners. As a result, MMJ is not covered by insurance. Of course, this also holds true for Medicare where the following statement is seen on the official government website:
“Because of the federal prohibitions on prescribing Schedule 1 substances, there is no Medicare coverage for the purchase of medical marijuana, and any out-of-pocket costs you incur purchasing marijuana for medical use will not count toward any deductibles under Part B or a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan if you are enrolled in one.”
Are Member Networks the Short-Term Answer?
If you search for medical marijuana insurance policies online you will find several results from major insurers. A result for Cigna® is typical. Its website provides basic information about medical marijuana but is silent about the company’s lack of MMJ policies.
One company, Novus Cannabis MedPlan, enables member-only limited discounts for cannabis and hemp products from the company’s affiliated dispensary network. The company is not offering MMJ insurance policies per se, it’s closer to a Costo® membership rather than an insurance plan. Novus officially launched its online platform in March 2018 to connect medical marijuana medicine patients with participating dispensaries and providers. To become a Novus member, you select a monthly payment plan ranging from $24.95 to $38.95 per month. According to Novus, “members will have access to a large and growing provider network offering cost savings of 20% or more on over 1,000 products and services.”
Novus entered into an agreement with CB Botanicals and the Realm of Caring to offer its members Charlottes Web™ a well known low THC high CBD cannabis extract. Novus members can receive 5,000 milligrams for $695, a 30 percent discount. This is significant when considering the regular monthly cost for treating children suffering from epilepsy.
Wait Just a New York Minute
New York State Senator Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried recently introduced legislation requiring the state’s government health insurance programs and workers’ comp program to cover medical marijuana just like any other prescription medicine. Medical marijuana has been legal in New York state since 2014, and Governor Cuomo anticipates full legalization in 2019. If the proposed public health insurance requirement becomes the law, New York will be the first state to cover medical marijuana in government-run health insurance programs. We’ll follow this story and provide any updates.
Medical Marijuana Health Insurance in Canada
Canada legalized cannabis at the national level in October 2018. Like most modern industrialized countries, Canada provides government-run health insurance, but it also allows an option for additional private insurance. One would think that medical marijuana is now covered by the government plan, but this is not the case. Only one private insurer, Sun Life, currently offers a healthcare plan that covers medical marijuana. According to Sun Life’s CEO, Dean Connor, the company made the decision following interest from companies that offer Sun Life as supplemental insurance for their employees. Another Canadian company, Loblaws Companies Limited, also provides medical marijuana insurance coverage for its 200,000 employees. By the virtue of being the first country to nationally legalize both medicinal and adult-use marijuana, other countries look to Canada for policy development. It will be fascinating to see how medical marijuana health insurance develops in Canada and we will also keep an eye on our great northern friend and trade partner.
Medical Marijuana Insurance for Adults
Every day, using medical marijuana to help with a variety of medical conditions is becoming more fully recognized as a legitimate medical option. It’s been legal in California since 1996, yet no health insurance options currently exist. Federal law prohibits insurance companies from covering medical marijuana which can have severe, detrimental consequences for those patients with acute medical needs. In time, our nation may see a change to federal prohibition of medical marijuana so insurance companies may issue policies that include marijuana coverage. For many, that change can’t come soon enough.
What do you think? Should Congress act and allow insurance companies to issue policies in states with regulated medical marijuana programs? Weigh in on our social channels, we want to hear from you!
Philip Rebentisch is a writer and the Content Editor for Three Wells.