and partnered with external medical researchers, showed that 45
per cent of those suffering from pain and anxiety stopped using
benzodiazepines (anxiety-reducing sedatives) within a year of
starting to use medical marijuana.
Insurers and employers were concerned that adding cover-age
for medical marijuana will increase the cost of health plans.
However, they found that such coverage actually replaces the use
of similar or higher-cost prescription drugs, meaning the cost of
the plan does not increase. What is also important, especially for
the employer, is that employees who find relief of their symptoms
with medical marijuana take fewer sick days and perform better.
For these reasons, medical marijuana is slowly being added as
optional coverage to group benefit plans by the big insurers. In
January 2018, Sunlife Financial announced that it was offering
limited coverage (up to $6,000 a person/year) for five specific con-ditions
5. EVEN WITH COVERAGE FOR MEDICAL
MARIJUANA ON A GROUP PLAN, THERE ARE
STILL CHALLENGES FOR EMPLOYEES
One challenge that employees face is the annual limit placed on
reimbursements. If an employee is spending $10,000 a year on
medical marijuana, but the plan only covers $3,000 a year, they
are still out of pocket thousands of dollars. The remainder can be
claimed at tax time as a medical tax credit, but the unreimbursed
polices & procedures
cost is still a significant expense that patients may find difficult
What is also important is that in order to get reimbursed for
medical marijuana on a plan, employees must first obtain prior
authorization from the insurance company. They must submit
their prescription from their doctor, provide some history explain-ing
the condition and what other medications they previously used
and proof that it was purchased at an approved supplier. Only
after this information is reviewed and authorized can an employee
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Changes to the legal status of marijuana have created unique and
unprecedented challenges for Canadian employers. Employers
should establish clear policies and procedures in their organiza-tions
to protect themselves and their team. Likewise, employees
who use or intend to use medical marijuana need to be aware of all
the implications, both legal and otherwise.
There are still many ambiguities surrounding marijuana in the
workplace. However, with time many of these uncertainties will
be litigated and the courts will provide clearer guidelines about an
employer’s obligation while ensuring that the workplace remains
safe and productive for all. n
Aviva B. Abraham is a group benefits and insurance advisor with
Creative Planning Financial Group.
HRPROFESSIONALNOW.CA ❚ AUGUST 2018 ❚ 31