Should you include medical marijuana on your staff benefits plan?

Should you include medical marijuana on your staff benefits plan?

Should you include...Cannabis is coming to Canada in a big way. The legalization of recreational marijuana has left employers considering their brand’s position on the drug – and even looking at adding it to their benefits plans.

We spoke to Jonathan Tafler, senior director, product & operations, employer health solutions at Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw, who explained why he believes medical cannabis will be making an appearance on future benefits plans. Tafler will also be speaking at HRD Canada’s upcoming HR Leaders West Summit, in Vancouver this month.

“Several companies have announced their intentions to cover medical cannabis as part of their benefits plan,” explained Tafler. “However, Loblaw was the first to do so in 2017. We worked very closely with the insurance community in order to make this happen. There are many potential reasons why a company might consider covering medical cannabis as part of their benefits plans – but we believe there are three main ones.”

The first aspect they look into is clinical evidence, Tafler told HRD Canada.

“We analyze any new therapy coming to market and conduct a clinical assessment of that therapy; which would look at everything from the evidence at hand to seeing how this new treatment would impact our already established benefits plans.

“When you do this for medical cannabis, what we found is that there are certain medical conditions where cannabis is equally effective relative to its cost. The specific conditions on which we found this evidence are related to multiple sclerosis and nausea from chemotherapy.”

The evidence surrounding medical cannabis is still pretty sparse at the moment, but there is more and more of it every day. This leads on Tafler’s second consideration - a growing patient demand.

“We strongly believe that there will be a medical need for a growing number of patients,” he added. “When we think about cannabis, it currently has a lot of cultural stigma associated with the drug. But the reality is that there are many patients who take medical cannabis in Canada right now, and many of those patients are dealing with more than one condition at the same time – meaning they’re on several medications.

“Usually patients want to take all their treatments under the supervision of one physician, who can help them to understand the right quantity and mix for them – in short, they want to ensure they’re in safe and professional hands.”

Thirdly, Tafler tells us, is the potential for a reduction in the prescribing of opioid– and subsequent opioid abuse.

“There have been some early studies that seem to show a potential correlation between medical cannabis use and the reduction of opioid prescription use. Obviously, it’s in early days - more research needs to be done – and there is no evidence as of yet which suggests the cost of cannabis will be offset by a reduction in opioid use.”
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