Karhlyle Fletcher   |   December 11, 2020

Health Insurance for Cannabis is a Modern Must

As more people find medical benefit from cannabis will insurance companies ever support plant-based medicine?
Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

From alcoholism to opiate addiction and other chronic conditions like arthritis and pain, it’s evident that insurance companies are under a lot of stress to provide adequate service. While medications and treatment can be costly, cannabis can be a more simplistic, organic, and cost-effective treatment for many conditions. 

The Push for Insurance to Cover Cannabis

In Ireland, doctors prescribed Alicia Maher, 37, 30 tablets a day, including pain killers, due to having had many surgeries, including her large intestine and rectum removed. In 2018 she started using a cannabis vape from the black market and immediately noticed a difference. While the pills left her feeling sleepy, drained, and unable to live the life she wanted to, cannabis was gentler and less intrusive. The Minister of Health approved her license for medical cannabis. However, while insurance would cover her pills, which cost €900 a month, and her several surgeries, they refuse to cover cannabis, which costs €2,000 every three months. Due to this, Maher has remained in Spain, where she can afford her preferred medicine. 

Tom Curran will found the Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council to address these sorts of situations. The goals of the council will include:

  • ensuring prescriptions for medicinal cannabis are funded in the same way as other medicines without charge for those with a Medical Card or on the Long Term Illness Scheme,
  • changing the law to allow trace amounts of THC in CBD products, to include raw flower for vaporization in the approved cannabis medicines,
  • and to expand the list of conditions covered under the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme, notably, so it includes chronic pain.

Currently, the state only refunds cannabis prescriptions for multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and nausea from chemotherapy. 

However, in Northern Ireland, things can be even more difficult. Although Billy Caldwell, a teenager in the region, was finally awarded a lifetime prescription of medical cannabis, the National Health Service(NHS) has repeatedly refused to supply funding for whole-plant cannabis oils for children with epilepsy. Some families have to raise £2,000 a month themselves because of this. Citing a lack of information, the NHS is hesitant to provide cannabis-based medicine to anyone. Most people who receive it were the subject of significant media attention, which is very imbalanced, and against the spirit of inclusivity and equity. 

What Conditions Could Insurance Address with Cannabis?

Opiates have decimated regions of the world throughout the past decades, and especially the Rust Belt. With joblessness combined with the availability of prescription drugs, heroin, and, more recently, fentanyl, many fell into addiction. However, with several key states, including Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, having legalized THC for at least some purposes, there’s hope for alternative treatment. According to a study on 61 patients with back pain who used opiates published in September, over 50% were able to stop all opiate usage by using medicinal cannabis. 

Considering this research and the availability of cannabis in the region, lawmakers would be wise to consider federal legalization so that the conversation on insurance companies covering cannabis for getting patients off opiates can begin. Similarly, the University of Victoria found that 43.5% of participants in a study were able to reduce their drinking through the use of medicinal cannabis. However, in the words of Philippe Lucas, Tilray’s vice president of global patient research and access, and the University of Victoria researcher who led the study, “cost is still a significant barrier to access, as is lack of availability via pharmacies.”

The study also found a reduction in opiates and nicotine use. 7.8% of participants ceased drinking within the last month. Meanwhile, in Thailand, where medical cannabis is being used to treat terminal cancer, Parkinson’s disease, drug-resistant neuropathic pain, insomnia, and other ailments, the Health Minister provided distinct support for the substance. Their clinics are equipped with hotlines to help patients use cannabis properly and boast that 70% of those using cannabis have seen their conditions improve. 

There’s More than What’s Confirmed 

While insurance companies and health systems may be wary of adopting cannabis as a treatment, the science is behind it. GW Pharmaceuticals, the company behind Epidolex and Sativex, leading cannabinoid medicines, is now recruiting for phase two clinical trials for treating both autism and schizophrenia. Sativex is being prescribed for multiple sclerosis outside of the country, but clinical trials are just starting in the US. Cannabis is no longer a potential medicine but a proven one. As cannabis companies that adapt to eco-friendly policies early are poised to win big through incentives and rebates, insurance companies willing to work with cannabis will win over many loyal and adoring consumers.  

 

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