Canada’s healthcare system has long been the envy of the world. Now it is covering patients’ access to cannabis-based medicines. Let’s take a look at their new regime for medical marijuana.
Sun Life has announced that from 1st March 2018, their healthcare plan will cover cannabis prescribed as medicine. Between $1,500-6,000 worth of medical marijuana can be paid for by their plan. That much weed can be covered once it is dispensed according to government regulations. With the legalisation of recreational marijuana on its way to Canada, the private sector feels secure making commitments like these. As more companies follow suit, the stigma around cannabis use as a medicine should fade further. Loblaws Companies Limited, which runs a chain of stores employing around 200,000 people, is also providing coverage for medical marijuana.
PRIVATE SECTOR MOVES FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Canada’s healthcare isn’t just popular with Canadians. Around the world, countries look to Canada as a model for public-option healthcare. Virtually all basic essential care from physicians and hospitals is covered by the taxpayer. Some services are not covered, such as home care, dental plans and prescription drugs. There is however some flexibility in insurance plans you can follow. Around 30% of Canada’s healthcare is financed by private insurance. Sun Life Assurance Co. is one of the largest insurance providers in the world. As one of the most eminent corporations in Canada, it has just announced some huge news for medical marijuana users.
A public option seems some way off although there is an encouraging legal precedent set by the eastern province of Nova Scotia. When mechanic Gordon “Wayne” Skinner was injured on the job, he developed terrible chronic back pain. Medical marijuana was soothing these problems. Skinner had hoped that his union would cover the cost through its trust fund. This however, was turned down three times, leading Skinner to bring his case to a human rights board hearing. The board ruled in his favour that provincial human rights law required the union to reimburse him for his medical marijuana expenses. They found that Skinner had been discriminated against in a “non-direct and unintentional” manner by the anti-marijuana policy. So perhaps throughout Canada, more providers with public obligations shall re-examine their own policies.
There remains a question even if coverage for medical marijuana becomes more commonplace. What sort of stipulations will come with that access? California had a notoriously loose system with a generously broad range of conditions. This facilitated broad access to the broad catalogue of dispensaries. Under current Canadian laws there are about 40 facilities that have a government licence to grow and distribute medical marijuana. They can only provide to prescribed patients and patients can only get coverage if their condition is specified by their insurance.
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More than 17 years after cannabis was first legalized in Canada for medical use, some insurers are just beginning to cover the cost of the medication. Slowly things are changing for the better as companies are being given the option from insurers to include medical cannabis. However, many plans limit coverage to just a handful of medical conditions that qualify and do not cover the cost of medical cannabis for most users.
But don’t fret – if your health insurance plan includes a Healthcare Spending Account (HCSA or HSA), you are likely able to claim medical cannabis under this category. Be sure to chec k the details of your insurance plan to see what is and is not covered. The Canada Revenue Agency lists medical cannabis as an eligible medical expense . Your proof of purchase (receipts) that include your prescription information, can be found online under your personal account with each Licensed Producer (LP) on their respective websites.
If you have any questions about your prescription, your apollo educator is here to assist you free of charge, 7 days a week.
One of the biggest benefits for medical cannabis patients and users is the ability to “write off” their medical cannabis medication on their yearly personal taxes as a medical expense . To be able to do so, the cannabis must have been purchased through a Licensed Producer, and have valid receipts of purchase.
Insurance companies currently offering medical cannabis coverage inclusion
Veterans Affairs Canada was the first Canadian institution to cover medical cannabis and has a revised coverage policy since November 22, 2016 through Medavie Blue Cross. The Veterans Affairs Canada website states “the health and well-being of Veterans is a top priority for the Government of Canada. This was the fundamental consideration in the development of VAC’s reimbursement policy for cannabis for medical purposes”.
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Current medical cannabis users are hopeful that private insurers will begin to recognize cannabis as medicine and cover the expenses. There is a large push to see cannabis covered the same way as any other prescribed medication, as well as better access for those who are on ODSP or a fixed income. There are advocacy groups & nonprofits that work with patients to discuss coverage with their employers and private insurers while showing supporting medical evidence of your prescription such as a doctor’s letter alongside the request. Currently, this is generally done on a case-by-case basis on whether or not the coverage will be approved.
Many Licensed Producers (LPs) also offer compassionate pricing to low-income individuals, seniors, and those on ODSP. Medical cannabis users should work with a patient educator who can help them determine if they qualify for compassionate pricing or other benefits. Patient educators are also able to recommend Licensed Providers who offer compassionate pricing, as not all LP’s offer this benefit. Apollo Cannabis Clinics employ patient educators to work with each individual after they receive a medical cannabis recommendation. Patient educators are committed to helping medical cannabis users understand what benefits certain Licensed Producers may offer. They also work to help individuals select LPs who carry the product they require.
If you’d prefer, you can also grow it yourself or designate someone else to grow it for you. In both instances, you or your producer will need to be certified by Health Canada to comply with ACMPR.
Before you submit a claim for medical cannabis, here are a few things you should know.
To start, visit your doctor and talk about whether medical cannabis is an option for your treatment. If your doctor decides that cannabis may help you, they can provide you with a medical authorization, in compliance with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).
Claiming cannabis as a medical expense
Once you have authorization, you can register with a Health Canada-licensed producer of medical cannabis . You can purchase medical cannabis in various forms, such as fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil, extracts and seeds.
Cannabis can be used for either medical or recreational purposes. The difference is really in the use. When we talk about medical cannabis, it’s in reference to cannabis being used to alleviate symptoms of various health conditions and diseases under the guidance of a physician and with the right authorization. Recreational cannabis, however, is not used to serve any medical purpose.
Currently, the coverage offered by Sun Life is only available for conditions where there’s sufficient clinical evidence to support its use:
The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has brought the plant into the limelight. If you take cannabis for medical purposes, you may be wondering if you can claim it as a medical expense on your tax return, or if your workplace benefits plan will help pay for it. But before submitting a claim, here are few things you should understand: