Nova Scotia Board: Insurance Must Cover Medical Cannabis

A human rights board in Nova Scotia has ruled an insurance company must cover medical marijuana.

The case was brought forward by Gordon “Wayne” Skinner. Skinner suffers from chronic pain due to an on-the-job car accident. He says he faced discrimination when he was denied coverage. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission sided with him and noted in the decision, “denial of his request for coverage of medical marijuana… amounts to a prima facie case of discrimination.”

The ruling went on to note the, “discrimination was non-direct and unintentional.”

Inquiry board committee chairman Benjamin Perryman identified an ongoing battle of semantics over prescription and authorizations as a major contributing factor to the commission’s decision. Perryman stated since medical marijuana requires a prescription by law, it has to be covered by an employee insurance program.

Adam Greenblatt of Tweed, a major company in the Canadian cannabis landscape, provided a take what the ruling could mean for the industry country-wide.

“It remains to be seen, important to note this isn’t the first time in Canada that insurance companies have been required to pay for medical marijuana,” Greenblatt said, going on to reference Quebec workers’ compensation rulings and decisions in favor of veterans’ benefits.

This case is, however, the first time a human rights board has ruled on the subject.

“The human rights board is not necessarily binding,” Greenblatt said.

Generally speaking there are efforts on the part of the insurance boards to make sure these type of rulings aren’t taken as precedent. Jonathan Zaid fought tooth and nail for coverage through his school insurance program. Sun Life, the company that paid out the claim in 2015, said then that the case was an “exceptional circumstance” and would not set precedent.

It seems to play on the semantics of whether or not medical marijuana can be authorized. Technically those who receive medical cannabis in Canada receive an authorization, but it’s written like a prescription.

Canadian medical cannabis authorizations are also a bit different than what you would see in somewhere like California. Up north, doctors prescribe your daily dosage. If you’re prescribed 3 grams per day you would be able to purchase 90 grams a month from a licensed supplier like Tweed. These kind of specifics are why the authorizations are considered more similar to a prescription than their southern cousins.

While it may seem ridiculous, this language debate has played out in activists’ favor in the past.

“That semantic issue has been critical in other battles,” said Greenblatt. “There’s a battle to not tax it. In Canada we don’t tax medical products, but we do tax medical marijuana even though it’s a product doctors are prescribing.”

Greenblatt believes medical cannabis being cost-covered by insurance plans is a crucial step to protecting the medical cannabis space as the country moves forward with full-scale legalization.

“What we’re hoping with legal market, is the way to protect medical access is it being cost covered like this. Just like they pay for most other drugs in Canada.”

With the number of cases in Canada around the issue of insurance providers paying for medical cannabis stacking up, what would it take to settle the issue for good?

“The big hurdle is to get a drug identification number for cannabis,” Greenblatt said. “that means clinical trials, studies, and the regulatory hurdles.”

He also noted a clinical trial currently taking place in Quebec and was hopeful the findings would push the issue of the drug identification further.

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