With medical marijuana being federally illegal and workers’ compensation being regulated federally and by each state, there is a great debate on whether your workers’ comp carrier is responsible for covering medical marijuana costs.
Recently in Minnesota, at the state’s workers’ compensation court of appeals, it was determined that the carrier would need to cover the cost. However, this went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, where the ruling was overturned. The Minnesota Law Review says that the state supreme court determined that the federal Controlled Substances Act preempts a Minnesota statute that requires employers to reimburse for medical marijuana because doing so would expose the employer to criminal liability under federal law.
The only remedy would be for Congress and the president to sign legislation to resolve conflicts at the state and federal level. History suggests that the federal government is reluctant to get involved.
Patients are frustrated, as they do not want to rely on heavily addictive opioids.
Differing State Rules
According to Risk & Insurance, five states other than Minnesota states now require insurance workers’ comp carriers to reimburse claimants for medical marijuana, if deemed necessary for treatment. The states that allow reimbursement based on state court decisions are New Jersey, New Mexico, New Hampshire and New York. Connecticut also allows reimbursement of claims for medical marijuana, but this is based on a state workers’ compensation administrative panel decision. Unfortunately for patients, medical marijuana can often only be allowed as a last resort after all other treatment methods have failed.
Missouri is currently silent on this issue, along with nine other states. States like California and Colorado do not require reimbursement, but they don’t prohibit it, either; in total 14 states fall in this category.
The number of states that will reimburse for medical marijuana is expected to grow as more patients petition the state courts.
The Impact on Workers’ Compensation
Ali LePore, Vice President of Claims Eastern & Southern Regions, for Benchmark Insurance Company, confirmed, “The use of medical marijuana in workers’ compensation is dependent on the jurisdiction of the accident. Some states are allowing the use of medical marijuana and have updated their medical fee schedules to include payment codes for the treatment, others have not. If it is statutorily allowed, we must provide if prescribed by an authorized treating physician. As of right now, there are only five states that allow use of medical marijuana: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and New Mexico.”
Research regarding the benefits of medical marijuana is very limited, due to resistance at the federal level and a lack of good product to test because of the regulations. Carriers, claims adjusters, executives and clinical experts are faced with making decisions on when it is OK to allow medical marijuana to be reimbursed based on whether the products are deemed necessary and a last resort. By the time it is deemed necessary it could be too late.
The research that does exist suggests largely shows the benefits of medical marijuana. A study published in the National Library of Medicine states that 26 to 36 million people are abusing opioids worldwide, and 115 people die every day due to opioid use. Evidence suggests that marijuana can help alleviate opioid withdrawal and is a fairly safe method of doing so. Other research, also published in the National Library of Medicine, supports the claim that medical marijuana can treat chronic pain and act as an alternative to opioids. Medical marijuana is known to curb opioid addictions, so if more states can pick the reimbursement, this could save lives and money!