In­sur­ance cov­er­age for med­i­cal mar­i­juana is com­ing: ex­pert

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

Cana­di­ans who have been pre­scribed med­i­cal mar­i­juana could one day see their in­sur­ance com­pany foot­ing the bill, ex­perts pre­dict, fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of new Health Canada rules that al­low for the sale of cannabis oils.

Health Canada an­nounced re­vamped med­i­cal mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tions ear­lier this month af­ter the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that users of the drug should be per­mit­ted to con­sume it in other forms, such as oils and ed­i­bles, rather than hav­ing to smoke dried buds.

“You’re go­ing to see in­sur­ance com­pa­nies slowly start to creep into the sec­tor,” says Khur­ram Ma­lik, an an­a­lyst at Ja­cob Se­cu­ri­ties Inc., not­ing that the new reg­u­la­tions will al­low med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers to sell gel caps sim­i­lar to those made from cod liver oil.

“When you’re try­ing to smoke a plant you have no idea how much you’re con­sum­ing, so that makes doc­tors a lit­tle ner­vous,” he said.

Ex­perts say the changes are a ma­jor step to­wards le­git­imiz­ing the drug in the eyes of doc­tors and in­sur­ers.

“When some­thing doesn’t look dif­fer­ent than other medicines, it be­comes much eas­ier for peo­ple to get com­fort­able with the idea that this is, in fact, a pos­si­ble treat­ment op­tion for pa­tients,” says Bruce Lin­ton, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Smiths Falls, Ont.-based Tweed Mar­i­juana Inc.

How­ever, med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­duc­ers still have one ma­jor hur­dle to over­come be­fore in­sur­ers be­gin rou­tinely fund­ing the drug — cannabis cur­rently doesn’t have a drug iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber, known as a DIN.

“If it was is­sued a DIN by Health Canada, it’s quite likely that the in­sur­ance com­pa­nies would cover it,” says Wendy Hope, a spokes­woman for the Cana­dian Life and Health In­sur­ance As­so­ci­a­tion Inc. “To ob­tain a DIN, the new form of med­i­cal mar­i­juana would need to go through the full Health Canada ap­proval process like any new drug.”

As it stands, most in­sur­ance com­pa­nies don’t rou­tinely cover med­i­cal mar­i­juana. But some in­sur­ers, in­clud­ing Man­ulife, say they will con­sider mak­ing an ex­cep­tion if the em­ployer has specif­i­cally re­quested it for one of its em­ploy­ees.

Ear­lier this year, Sun Life agreed to pay for a Univer­sity of Waterloo’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana pre­scrip­tion through his stu­dent health plan af­ter the stu­dent union went to bat for him.

Ma­lik says the pri­mary rea­son why med­i­cal mar­i­juana doesn’t have a DIN is a lack of rig­or­ous, clin­i­cal re­search on its ef­fi­cacy.

“The ev­i­dence is very cir­cum­stan­tial — not your typ­i­cal 10year, dou­ble-blind study that doc­tors and big phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies like to see,” Ma­lik said.

Ma­lik says there is a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive for in­sur­ers to pay for med­i­cal mar­i­juana, rather than shelling out for pricier chronic pain drugs such as opi­ates.

“From a dol­lars and cents stand­point, if mar­i­juana is the same thing as a nar­cotic opi­ate, they would much rather cover mar­i­juana be­cause they’re in the busi­ness to make money,” Ma­lik said.

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