The insurance company Sun Life Financial Inc. has decided to allow medical marijuana as an option for its group insurance benefit plans, a shift that shows the growing public acceptance of marijuana.
The Canadian insurer’s chief executive, Dean Connor, said the addition of medical marijuana was influenced by increased interest from the insurer’s employer clients, Financial Post reports.
“Medical marijuana has become a very important part of their treatment program and pain management program,” said Connor.
Beginning March 1, plan sponsors will be able to add medical marijuana coverage to extended healthcare plans that will range between $1,500 and $6,000 per covered individual annually.
Medical marijuana coverage will be an option for specific conditions and symptoms related to cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and other palliative care.
Sun Life provides health insurance coverage to over 3 million Canadians and their families. This addition comes as Canada prepares to legalize recreational marijuana in mid-2018, and as the number of registered medical marijuana patients increases.
There were over 235,000 Canadian medical marijuana patients in the system countrywide at the end of September 2017, compared to about 98,500 one year prior, according to Vahan Ajamian, a Beacon Securities Ltd. research analyst. He said, “The insurance companies have been getting pressure to cover this as a regular medicine.”
Sun Life will conduct periodic reviews of the increasing amount of clinical research supporting the use of medical marijuana for additional conditions, and update criteria as needed, the company said in an announcement updating their clients.
Jonathan Zaid, the executive director of patient advocacy group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, noted the expanded coverage comes after years of litigation to achieve this level of acceptance for medical marijuana. He said, “Although there may not be immediate benefit for patients as specific plan sponsors will need to purchase the coverage, this move will make covering medical cannabis simpler than today’s exception process and speaks volumes to the broader acceptance and legitimacy of medical cannabis.”