Ramifications for life and health providers after federal pot bill

by David Keelaghan17 Apr 2017
After months of speculation, the federal government has tabled legislation to end prohibition on cannabis for recreational use in Canada.

The drug is already permitted for medical use for those who have a prescription, but this bill will allow anyone over the age of 18 to purchase up to 30 grams of dried or fresh cannabis. As provinces will be responsible for distributing and selling the product, they also have the power to increase the minimum age if they see fit.

The Liberals' plan comes with two separate bills: one regulates the recreational use, sale and cultivation of marijuana, while the second brings more stringent measures against impaired driving.

Before being passed into law, the bills will have to go through both the House and the Senate, but is expected to be rolled out by Canada Day 2018.

In tabling the bills, the Liberals have fulfilled a key campaign pledge made in the run-up to the 2015 election.

For the life and health insurance industry, legalisation of marijuana for recreational use is likely to have a number of ramifications. The most obvious effect would be people who previously purchased the drug with a prescription simply opting out of going through their doctor.

This won’t be the case for anyone who receives the drug through a health plan, which admittedly is a small percentage of cannabis users at the present time. Canada’s main insurance companies have mostly adopted a wait and see attitude when it comes to including cannabis in their plans.

As Wendy Hope of the CLHIA told Life-Health Professional recently: “The reason medical marijuana is not included in health plans is because Health Canada has still not issued it a drug identification number (DIN),” she said. “We have been advocating to Health Canada that they follow the same path as for other prescription drugs.”

Now that a large section the medical community has accepted cannabis as a legitimate treatment for certain illness, and the federal government has moved to end prohibition, its likely Health Canada’s stance will soften before too long.

It does appear that the worm has turned on this issue, evidenced by Loblaws becoming the first large company to offer its employees cannabis coverage through its health benefits plan last month. The major insurers do not cover medical marijuana as a matter of policy, but will offer coverage under certain defined circumstances. In this case, coverage is limited to Loblaws workers suffering from multiple sclerosis or undergoing chemotherapy, and expenses are covered for only up to $1,500 per year.

As cannabis use because more normalized in the years to come, it is likely Canada’s main providers will come on board too, and such restrictions will likely not be a factor.


Related stories:
Loblaw’s pot coverage a ‘great first step,’ but no game-changer
Insurers in holding pattern until government moves on cannabis legalisation
 

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