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Message: Health Canada urged to clear way for medical pot insurance

Medical marijuana advocates in Alberta say Ottawa needs to expedite safety approvals that would allow insurance companies to provide coverage for costly prescriptions.

Medical marijuana advocates in Alberta say Ottawa needs to expedite safety approvals that would allow insurance companies to provide coverage for costly prescriptions. (CBC)

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Conventional pills did little to ease Jill Grindle's PTSD and sleep disorder, but within months of turning to medical marijuana the Calgary mother says she was sleeping through the night.

Now she has another worry.

"It's costing a pretty penny," she said. "So what I do is I under-medicate greatly. I scrimp and I save and I only use it very sparingly."

Like most Canadians, Grindle's standard insurance plan doesn't cover legally prescribed cannabis. For Grindle that adds up to $1,200 a month if she were to use her full four-gram daily allowance, so she gets by on one gram a day.

As the federal government prepares to legalize recreational marijuana by July 2018, Grindle is among the advocates calling on Health Canada  to clear the way for coverage of legally-prescribed pot.

With the exception of limited coverage for veterans and patients with health care spending accounts, the standard insurance of most Canadians doesn't reimburse the cost of medical cannabis.

Kait Shane, director of community outreach with Calgary-based Natural Health Services, describes it as the "missing link," noting Canadians can claim cannabis on their their tax returns and travel with it on federal flights.

"Every patient comes in and is kind of wondering the same thing. Can we be covered; will we be covered?" said Shane, whose Calgary-based company prescribes cannabis at several western locations including Edmonton.

She said the problem is that medical marijuana doesn't have a drug identification number (DIN); a classification that requires going through a rigorous, expensive approval process required of all new drugs.

Kait Shane with Natural Health Services says out-of-reach cannabis prices push some patients to illegal sources.

"It's a matter of lobbying ... to get Health Canada to recognize it's not feasible for them to go through the same trials as other drugs," said Shane, who points out that unlike other narcotics, cannabis has been used for a long time.

Shane worries not insuring medical cannabis will alienate those who can't afford to get it through licensed producers.

"High costs currently push many patients to seek alternative options through illegal avenues with zero testing protocols," she said. "The lack of testing could put a patient's health at risk."

Joan Weir, director of health police at the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, said the process is moving slowly, despite some employers adding coverage.

"There's not a lot of good research on the impact of adding medical marijuana to your drug program," said Weir. "So there needs to be a fair bit more research to make employers comfortable on including it as a benefit."

Health Canada wasn't immediately available for comment.

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/health-canada-urged-to-clear-way-for-medical-pot-insurance-1.4053888

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