The Times They Are a Changing – The Evolution of Insurance Coverage for Medical Marijuana

July 24, 2017 | Helen D.K. Friedman, Evan Bawks

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967-2017), listening to vinyl/download versions of Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, it is clear some aspects of counter-culture have become mainstream.

With the advent of new Health Canada Regulations in 2015, following the Supreme Court’s ruling that users of medical marijuana should be permitted to consume the product in more varied forms than smoking dried buds, the demand for insurers to cover medical marijuana under benefit plans has increased exponentially.  At the same time, the current retreat from opioid prescription has left a gap in products available to treat chronic pain.  These factors are shifting the landscape and mindset of employers, insurers and adjudicators towards coverage extension.  Most recently, the food giant Loblaws extended coverage for medical marijuana to its approximately 45,000 employees under policies managed by Manulife and Great-West Life.

It is possible that Loblaws’ extension of coverage is simply a supply chain support to the Shoppers Drug Mart application to Health Canada for the license required to sell medical marijuana.  (Loblaws attributes the extension to evolving clinical evidence for use as treatment for specific medical conditions).  Setting supply chain innovation aside, extension of coverage under insurance plans and by statutory tribunals has been well underway for years.  Adjudicators, employers and insurers are tuning in, turning on (the benefits coverage) and dropping out (of coverage denials).


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