Will Patients Ever Get Reimbursed For Their Medical Cannabis?

“Employers and workers compensation insurers often say that regardless of their own preferences, they are barred from paying reimbursements for cannabis.”

Massachusetts and other states with medical marijuana programs are considering bills that would enable patients to be reimbursed for their green meds, and the insurance industry is certainly paying attention. As businessinsurance.com reported last week

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill that would force workers compensation insurers and employers to reimburse for medical marijuana. H.B. 1949, introduced Feb. 16 but made public Tuesday, states that “reasonable and necessary service costs” under workers comp code “may include reimbursement for medical cannabis provided to injured employees who are qualifying patients” according to their health care provider.

We’re not alone in the Bay State. As the biz insurance site also noted, “New York lawmakers introduced similar legislation in February.”

Meanwhile, “[compensation] experts say medical marijuana reimbursement continues to be an industry issue as insurers grapple with conflicting state and federal laws.” And a “court ruling in Pennsylvania could soon clarify the issue for employers in that state,” though “rulings in other states leave an array of legal precedents for multistate companies to navigate.” The same outlet reported in January:

Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, and several states have introduced legislation this year that would allow or expand its use, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which advocates for decriminalization of marijuana.

Lawmakers in Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Carolina and Tennessee have introduced, or are planning to introduce, legislation to legalize medical marijuana, according to NORML. New Jersey, Texas and West Virginia, meanwhile, are looking to expand and amend their existing medical marijuana programs.

Of course, since cannabis is still banned at the federal level, state laws, if passed, will have varying impacts depending on a number of factors. The insurance industry resource further explained:

Amid legislative changes, state courts have split on whether injured workers should have access to marijuana and how. Some have ruled reimbursement is permitted, even ordered it in some cases, and others have said it would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.  

Employers and workers compensation insurers often say that regardless of their own preferences, they are barred from paying reimbursements for cannabis, said Jenifer Kaufman, an Abington, Pennsylvania-based claimants attorney. Cannabis is sometimes used as an alternative to prescription painkillers.

We will continue to update readers on these and other bills, in Massachusetts and elsewhere, as the story develops.