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Spring 2021  Volume 31, Number 2        

marijuana prescription

Workers Comp Payments OK'd for Marijuana in Some States

Medical marijuana is gaining wider acceptance in the medical community as an effective pain-reliever, which can be useful in workplace illnesses and injuries. But is it compensable under workers comp?

According to the Pacific Workers' Compensation Law Center, "Supporters of medical marijuana argue that it can decrease medical expenses when dealing with chronic pain, which can derive from any kind of injury, including work-related injuries."

Also, a study published in Health Affairs in July 2016 determined that the implementation of medical marijuana laws led to a significant decrease in the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana could serve as a clinical alternative For example, Medicare would save more than $468 million per year on medications for disabled Americans, especially those older than 65.

Although medical marijuana is legal in a growing number of states, in many states it is not covered by workers' compensation, even when prescribed by a doctor.

Insurance companies have traditionally been concerned about marijuana's effects on workers, the unregulated nature of the business, the drug's inconsistent quality, the unstandardized dosages, and how it interacts with other drugs. The states that have legalized marijuana have mitigated these concerns to some extent by overseeing its manufacture and distribution. But the main issue is that its use, possession, and distribution are illegal under Federal law.

For instance, in California, one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical and now recreational use, it is a Schedule 1 drug, and its possession and distribution are strictly speaking a violation of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Judges Get Around the Federal Act

Judges in some states have been able to get around the Federal law and permit workers' comp coverage by pointing out that employers do not possess, manufacture or distribute the drug; they merely allow workers to use it when prescribed by medical doctors.

A number of recent court cases, as reported by Business Insurance, reveal that more states are starting to allow workers' compensation to pay for marijuana treatment, either directly or as a reimbursement.

Cases Trending Favorable for Marijuana Comp Payments

In March 2019, in Re Appeal of Panaggio, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously overturned a workers' comp appeals board decision to deny an injured worker reimbursement for therapeutic marijuana, saying that denying reimbursement to the worker was the same as denying him "his right to medical care deemed reasonable under the Workers' Compensation Law."

In October 2019, the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission (Caye v. Thyssenkrupp Elevator) said insurers didn't have to pay for medical marijuana directly but can be forced to reimburse workers' comp claimants for medical marijuana they purchased themselves.

In June 2018, the Delaware Superior Court (Kalix v. Giles & Ransom,) also said a worker was entitled to reimbursement for $21,000 he spent at dispensaries purchasing medical marijuana and cannabinoids for pain relief.

"I think courts will be ruling more and more that (insurers) should pay for medical marijuana," said Brian Allen, Salt Lake City-based vice president of governmental affairs, pharmacy solutions for Mitchell International Inc. "Over time, we will see (marijuana) in treatment guidelines, and there will be science of how we can use it in treating injuries in workers' compensation."

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In this issue:

Risk Tip

8 Major Cyber Security Concerns in the Age of COVID-19

Workers Comp Payments OK'd for Marijuana in Some States

What Impact Will the Biden Administration Have on the Insurance Industry?

Workers' Comp Basics: Are WC benefits taxable?



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