Before delving into loopholes of how Canadians living in Ontario can skirt around paying hefty prices for medical marijuana, patients must understand the system.
Medical cannabis in Canada is not covered by provincial drug plans, even if patients have a legal prescription signed by a physician.
Weed prescriptions are not covered simply because medical cannabis doesn’t have the Drug Identification Number (DIN), an eight-digit number usually seen on labels of prescribed drugs.
The label doesn’t only mean that the drug has been evaluated by the Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) and approved for sale in Canada, but it is also required by insurers to give coverage for the patients’ drug benefit plans.
This is also the reason why the 24-year-old Canadian Jonathan Zaid, a medical cannabis patient, is lobbying Ottawa to remove taxes levied on the green herb’s prescriptions. Non-cannabis medical prescriptions in Canada are not taxed.
With no DIN labels in sight, payment for cannabis prescriptions is difficult for many low-income patients, who are unable to afford prices that can range from $8 per gram to $150 per 40ml bottle of oil, of course, depending on their medical conditions and needs.
Although many Licensed Producers (LPs) do offer compassionate pricing, some patients often find themselves unable to afford their next round of orders, pressuring them to abandon their natural yet expensive treatment.
So here are some loopholes that could help to get cannabis prescriptions partially, if not fully, covered.
1- Create Health Spending Account
Under the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) guidelines, medicinal marijuana qualifies as a medical expense and Canadians, who are legally prescribed cannabis can write-off their expense using a Health Spending Account (HSA).
A Health Spending Account is a tax plan that provides an option for small businesses to pay for all the medical expenses of their employees and their dependents on a tax-free basis. This way, patients can write-off the tax for the legally obtained medical cannabis.
By opting for this plan, any amount paid to Health Canada or an LP is considered an eligible medical expense. If patients want to know more about whether they are covered, they can simply inquire with their insurance companies.
2- How to get free vaporizer?
Patients, who are on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) can be eligible to have a vaporizer up to $300 free by having their prescribing cannabis physician fill out the “Mandatory Special Necessities” form.
Vaporizers usually range from as low as $100 up to $600.
While using this method to get a free vaporizer is lengthy, and it does not cover the medication itself, many patients have benefitted from this program by finding an alternative and healthier way to inhale their cannabis, or to even replace an existing unit altogether.
However, transparency is an issue with this program. Getting a free vaporizer by filling a form is not advertised by the government, making it not fully-known to patients.
3- Veterans, RCMP
In Canada, veterans and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers are already covered for up to three grams per day.
While this program has existed for the benefits of veterans and RCMP officers for a long time, not many are aware of its availability.
For veterans especially those suffering from PTSD, there is some bad news. The three grams for veterans are a much-reduced allowance from their previous 10 grams.
This has pushed a group of New Brunswick veterans to file a legal case to take the federal government to court in hopes of winning a declaration that VAC violated their rights.
Who knows, maybe their efforts and that of Zaid’s could pave the way for a new dawn for cannabis to be treated like any other prescription drugs especially as legalization looms.
Another silver lining was in March when Sun Life Assurance Co. became the first insurance company in Canada to cover medical cannabis by categorizing it under “medical services and equipment” rather than a drug benefit.
Although it is a small advancement, it can influence other insurance companies to follow suit to finally make cannabis an accepted form of therapy and much easier for patients to access their medication.
Kresstine Fernando is an MD graduate who has predominantly been working in the cannabis industry for the past 2 years. Her experience includes doing research on patients with PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder and being the Clinical Coordinator at various cannabis clinics in and around the GTA. She has educated countless physicians about the benefits of medical cannabis and held meetings with Licensed Producers to further the medical cannabis cause.