Loblaw’s pot coverage a ‘great first step,’ but no game-changer

by Leo Almazora07 Apr 2017
Loblaw’s recently announced to its 45,000 employees that it’s offering them cannabis coverage through its health benefits plan. It’s been seen as a generous gesture, but upon closer inspection, experts have assessed the company’s coverage as somewhat modest.

The Canadian retail giant became the first large company to offer wide-scale coverage for the substance, which has not yet been issued a drug identification number (DIN) by Health Canada. Citing private health plan strategist Suzanne Lepage, CBC News reported that most insurers won’t cover medical marijuana yet, although they can accept requests for extra-contractual administrative provisions from large clients.

Joan Weir, director of health and disability policy at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Assocation, found the news about Loblaw’s decision “pretty stunning” at first. But upon learning the limitations of the coverage offered, she reassessed her reaction.

“I don’t think it’s a game-changer yet,” she told the news outlet. The marijuana coverage is limited to treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, as well as side effects caused by chemotherapy for cancer patients. She also noted the financial threshold: expenses are covered only up to $1,500 per year.

The sentiment was echoed by Deepak Anand, executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association. While he said Loblaw’s policy is a “great first step for the industry,” the amount of coverage offered was “quite low.”

“If you look at the costs that patients end up paying, it's only going to cover them [for] about six months, whereas it's supposed to last them a year or so,” he said. According to Anand, an annual limit of $5,000 would be more appropriate.

Still, the ongoing change in the landscape for marijuana coverage is clear. Following a recent Nova Scotia human rights board decision ordering that a man’s cannabis expenses be covered under his employee insurance plan, Anand said his organization has been receiving plenty of calls from insurers looking to talk about medical marijuana.

Weir also noted that the substance is of particular concern to employers, who have to consider ramifications relating to “having medical marijuana at work, having it used at work, having impairment at work, [and] all of those sorts of issues that employers would have to deal with if they were to add it on.”


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