Does your benefits plan cover medical marijuana?

April 25

Here’s the Coles Notes version of this blog post. Marijuana — despite being on its way to being legalized for recreational use through federal legislation announced last week — does not have a Drug Identification Number (DIN) so it is not covered under traditional drug plans.

But the answer is not quite as cut and dry as that.

For a drug to be covered under a typical health benefit plan, it must be measurable. A drug with a DIN contains a precise amount of medicinal ingredients. The amount of codeine in a tablet of Tylenol 3, for example, is easily measurable, but the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THD) and cannibidiol (CBD) in a cannabis leaf is not — hence no DIN. Here, however, is where it gets a little more complicated.

Medical marijuana cannot be claimed under traditional group health plans without a DIN, but it is considered a legitimate medical expense under the wider parameters of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), similar to things like hearing aids and walking devices. THD and CBD offer pain relief, and marijuana is sometimes recommended to relieve symptoms of diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and glaucoma as well as to reduce nausea and pain during cancer treatment.

And so, with that CRA classification in mind, some carriers have started to cover medical marijuana under healthcare spending accounts.

A healthcare spending account is an affordable and flexible way to meet the diverse needs of employees. A pre-set amount of money is allocated to each employee at the start of every benefit year, eligible expense claims are submitted by employees and are 100% reimbursed up to the total dollar amount available in the healthcare spending account. Because of the flexibility this benefit option gives employees, it is becoming an increasingly popular selection.

Covering marijuana in this way is an innovative and progressive way to accommodate everyone’s needs. But it’s important to note that this coverage isn’t currently available across the board so, if you offer a healthcare spending account, your benefits advisor needs to check your carrier’s coverage.

The reality is though, that it is only a matter of time before researchers determine how to make medical marijuana measureable and issue it a DIN, just like codeine or OxyContin. When that not-so-distant future day comes, it will be treated like every other drug with a DIN and simply pass right through traditional group health plans.

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