Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart have been making headlines after announcing plans to cover the cost of medical cannabis for their employees. This is a big, bold step for Canada’s largest pharmacy chains, and sets precedent, in hopes other companies will follow suit.
It’s very rare in Canada for cannabis to be covered under group insurance. So much in fact that Jonathan Zaid, a student who suffered from New Daily Persistent Headache, garnered media attention across Canada in 2015 when he advocated for medical cannabis coverage at the University of Waterloo and eventually got approved. Many blame the lack of coverage on the fact that cannabis lacks a drug identification number in Canada. Canadians are fast to blame the insurance companies for the lack of cannabis coverage, when in fact the majority of the time the choice to cover medical marijuana is made by the employer.
The new coverage that Shoppers and Loblaws are rolling out will be accessible to those who use cannabis to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as nausea and vomiting often associated with chemotherapy for cancer patients. This coverage will pay out a maximum for $1,500 a year, with room for additional coverage if employees have access to a Health Care Spending Account.
While there are some for conditions the $1,500 cap, which equals roughly to just a tad less than .5 grams a day, individuals being treated for MS or cancer may require more than .5 grams daily.
Some of the most common reasons people find themselves being prescribed medical marijuana are arthritis, chronic pain, PTSD, anxiety and depression — just to name a few. These illnesses are just outside the scope over coverage by employers. Some of the well-researched medical conditions treated with cannabis are among those on that list, with ample amounts of data indicating that cannabis is largely helpful in these cases.
The two chains definitely deserve the praise for being open to starting an important conversation among employers, hopefully ultimately warming them up to the idea of expanding insurance coverage to include medical cannabis.
Back in October, Shoppers Drug Mart also applied to be a distributor of medical marijuana with the Canadian government.
Shoppers Drug Mart spokeswoman Tammy Smitham told CBC News in an email:
“We have applied to be a licensed producer strictly for the purposes of distributing medical marijuana. We have no intention of producing medical marijuana, but we do want the ability to dispense medical marijuana to our patients in conjunction with counselling from a pharmacist.”
Hopefully we can soon look forward to more employers opening up their coverage to include medical marijuana in the near future, as well as in pharmacy pick-ups, which make it easier for patients to access the medical cannabis they need. We applaud Shoppers Drug Mart on these major steps forward.