With medical marijuana now legal in 33 states, the issue of insurance coverage for cannabis is one to watch. As of this writing, no private health insurer in the U.S. pays for medical marijuana, nor do Medicare or Medicaid. But a recent court ruling in New Jersey left the issue wide open in regard to workers who need medical marijuana after being injured on the job.
Medical Marijuana and Insurance
As everyone who pays attention to these things knows, the United States’ approach to medical marijuana is far from “united.” People can legally possess and use the drug recreationally in 11 states. And in 22 others, it’s legal to use marijuana for medical reasons with a recommendation from a physician and a “medical marijuana” card (Though some states limit use to non-smokable forms of the drug.) The other 17 states still side with the federal government, which lists marijuana as a dangerous drug with no approved medical use on the schedules of the Controlled Substance Act. In a few of these states the drug has been decriminalized, but in others, possession of any amount of marijuana is a crime that can land a person in jail.
This hodgepodge of conflicting laws leaves patients in a quandary. If a physician recommends medical marijuana to treat a legitimate medical condition, it seems logical that health insurers would pay all or at least part of the cost of the drug. But doing so would create a huge problem for insurers because they are required by law to pay only for drugs that have been approved by the FDA. And since marijuana is illegal on the federal level, it has never received FDA approval. In fact, even in states where medical marijuana is legal, physicians cannot actually prescribe the drug — they can only recommend its use.
Medical Marijuana and Worker’s Compensation
Since insurers across the board don’t pay for medical marijuana, it would seem likely that employers, too, would not be required to pay for the drug for employees injured on the job. But, at least according to Judge Lionel Simon of the New Jersey Division of Workers Compensation, that isn’t necessarily true. In the case of an injured worker who developed a long-term dependence on highly addictive opioids after suffering a job-related back injury, Simon ruled that medical marijuana was necessary medical treatment and ordered the worker’s employer, Freehold Township, to pay for the drug. He even went several steps further, stating that medical marijuana is “safer, it’s less addictive” and “better for the treatment of pain” than opioids and calling the prescribing practices of some medical professionals “criminal.”
Of course, that was just one court case, and whether other judges across the nation will agree remains to be seen. A similar case — first decided in favor of an injured employee who had been disabled by chronic back pain for many years — was overturned on appeal by the Maine Supreme Court last June. The judge in that proceeding ruled not only that the employer could not be forced to pay for the worker’s medical marijuana, but that doing so “would be engaging in conduct that meets all of the elements of criminal aiding and abetting as defined in (federal law.)”
Obviously, the complexities of medical marijuana laws and their insurance implications both for injured workers and the general public won’t be resolved any time soon. Keep an eye on the courts to see how rulings are trending in your state.
About the Carmoon Group
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