Pubdate: Tue, 20 Feb 2018
Source: Metro (Edmonton, CN AB)
Copyright: 2018 Metro Canada
Author: Kevin Maimann


Patients still struggling to get covered by insurance plans

As Alberta moves forward on retail applications for recreational
marijuana, those who use the drug for medical reasons still wait for

Most forms of medical cannabis do not have a Drug Identification
Number (DIN) in Canada, which leaves it subject to tax and exempts it
from most health coverage plans.

"We're not talking about drug users using this to get high, we're
talking about patients that need it to be able to function and be part
of a working society," said Scott Bladon, an Edmonton man who has
legally used cannabis for three years to treat psoriatic arthritis.

Bladon said he is in constant pain, and cannabis has helped him more
than other drugs. He takes oil that's a mixture of cannabidiol (CBD),
which helps with inflammation, and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which
helps with sleeping.

He said it's because of marijuana that he was able to get off
zopiclone, a sleeping aid he took for 15 years, and cut back his daily
dos age of ibuprofen.

"You don't even know how it's affecting you until you have to come off
it. Medical marijuana has been a blessing for that," Bladon said.

"I'm sleeping the way I should be, which helps me throughout the day
with pain management as well. Without the proper rest, you're messed

He said his insurer has so far refused to cover medical cannabis, even
under a Health Spending Account, and that he was told he would have to
"do all kinds of letters and see all kinds of doctors" if he wanted to
fight that decision.

"It just seemed like they were giving me the runaround," Bladon

He said the cost of his oil is manageable, at $100 for a vial that
will last for about two months.

But that's not the case for most medical marijuana users, according to
Jonathan Zaid, founder and executive director of Canadians for Fair
Access to Medical Marijuana.

He said an average dose of about two grams a day for dried cannabis
costs patients upwards of $500 a month.

"It's a considerable expense," he said.

Zaid said more clinical research is needed to get cannabis a DIN, but
health-care providers could offer better coverage in the meantime.

"In the absence of a DIN, there's still a lot of clinical evidence
that can be looked to, to come up with a responsible plan to cover the
cost of medical cannabis," he said.

He said more private insurance companies are starting to add it to
their plans.

Over the past year, Loblaw, OPSEU, Liuna and the Arthritis Society
have started covering medical cannabis under certain conditions. Sun
Life recently announced optional coverage for the drug.

But on top of that, there's taxes.

Unlike other medicines, cannabis is subject to GST and PST, and the
federal government recently proposed adding an excise tax to marijuana
- - similar to those on alcohol and tobacco - that would also include
medical marijuana.

Zaid's group has launched a Don't Tax the Medicine campaign calling
for changes.

If taxes remain when recreational cannabis is legalized, he said
patients might opt for the more accessible recreational market.

Patients would then lose the benefits of seeing a physician and
getting educated on how to safely and effectively incorporate the drug
into their overall treatment plan, he said, as well as learning about
potential interactions with other medications.

According to Health Canada, Sativex is the only drug using whole
botanical extracts from cannabis that has a DIN and is authorized for
sale in Canada.

Cesamet, a synthetic analogue of THC, is also available in capsule

No other cannabis-related drug has been assigned a DIN.
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