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Insurance coverage for medical marijuana a breakthrough for patients – and for our industry

The big day is fast approaching: Recreational marijuana will be legal as of October 17. Of course, the medical marijuana industry has been legal and thriving for a while now, serving about 235,000 patients as of 2017. Throughout Canada, medical dispensaries are well-established.

But there’s been one thing missing. One thing holding more consumers back from medical marijuana use. Eligibility for insurance claims. That’s always been the divide between long-held conventional treatments and marijuana.

Now, in a long-awaited breakthrough, that unfair disparity is gone. In what Marijuana Business Daily describes as “a major turning point in the insurance industry,” Sun Life, one of the world’s top insurance companies, is including medical cannabis as a group-plan option in Canada.

With a big player like Sun Life behind cannabis coverage, other companies are coming on board. Manulife has begun providing medical marijuana benefits to the 45,000 employees of Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaws grocery stores. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union announced it will cover up to $3,000 a year of members’ medical cannabis expenses. The Canadian Arthritis Society now supplies employers with a toolkit on medical cannabis coverage. The list goes on – and continues to grow.

Of the Manulife coverage, Global News reports that clients approved for coverage will be able to consult with Shoppers pharmacists at an Ontario-based patient care centre about the different options in medical marijuana. The clients can then not only choose treatment covered under their Manulife plan but receive continuing case management. Nathalie Khalaf, director of pharmacy benefits at Manulife, told Global that this program is the first to provide such ongoing support for clients.

Unquestionably, the move to accept medical marijuana as an insurable benefit will have a major positive impact on both patients and the industry itself. But this is just the beginning: The coverage is likely to become even more widespread.

As the Regina Leader-Post reports, many other serious conditions have yet to be covered. As James O’Hara, president and CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, told the Leader-Post: “Epilepsy in any form and seizures are definitely one of them. That’s a very common one that should be covered. [And] treatment for nausea as a result of chemotherapy is also important.” O’Hara predicts such coverage will eventually come into place.


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