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New law clarifies medical marijuana insurance requirements

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Workers’ compensation carriers and self-insurers will not be required to pay for a patient’s medical marijuana under a new bill Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law Monday.

The state’s more than 63,000 holders of medical marijuana cards will still be allowed to purchase their own cannabis, but the law removes the requirement that workers’ compensation carriers and self-insurers reimburse patients for medical marijuana.

The law is similar to protections already in place for federal and private insurers under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

Marijuana advocates say the bill limits access, which they say is a healthier alternative to opioid-based painkillers such as hydrocodone. Supporters say there are technical issues that would make it difficult to reimburse patients for medicinal marijuana.

The Arizona Self-Insurers Association said it initially interpreted the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to include workers’ compensation carriers and self-insurers, but it became concerned after a court of appeals upheld a lawsuit in New Mexico. Last year the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld a decision by a workers’ compensation judge that required an automotive repair shop in Santa Fe and its insurance company to reimburse a medical marijuana patient for the costs of marijuana to treat his chronic back pain.

“We believe this is consistent with the (medical marijuana) act as no other payer in the state, whether it’s commercial insurance or Medicaid, no other payer in the state currently has to pay for medical marijuana,” said Jeff Gray, a representative for the self-insurers association.

Arizona insurance companies are also concerned about how to reimburse patients, Gray said. For example, Gray said it would be difficult for insurers to follow dosage standards because the levels of THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, vary widely.

“The drug paraphernalia that is used to smoke it in some cases could be used as herbal medical equipment as well, so there are some issues around that,” Gray said.

Medical marijuana advocates say it’s unfair that insurers would cover opioid-based pain relievers but not cannabis.

“The jig is up. We know that cannabis is safe and effective,” said Dave Wisniewski, chairman of SAFER Arizona, a cannabis legalization political action committee. “What you are saying is you’d rather do the alternative, which is to give them harmful pills that are damaging to their health.”

2 comments

  1. I do not understand the issue being made that the pipe used for smoking could be used for other purposes. I inject my husband daily with insulin. Syringes can be used for many illicit drugs, yet they are routinely covered by health insurance. I am in the process of filing a civil rights lawsuit and would be interested in having others join me. I have narcolepsy with cataplexy in addition to chronic pain. Treatment is a balancing act because pain medications increase the sleepiness. Some strains of marijuana do not have this effect and I am considering trying it, but cannot afford it. I also am prescribed skeletal muscle relaxers but they create an extremely dangerous side effect, in that they trigger cataplexy attacks. Cataplexy is a sudden complete loss of muscle control and temporary paralysis. I have suffered broken bones, and have scars all over my body and face from injuries sustained during cataplexy attacks. My research shows that cannabis does not have this life threatening side effect. I don’t understand why the FDA and other government agencies would rather see me dead than have insurance pay for a medicinal substance that requires a prescription and is legal in my state.

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