Medical Cannabis in Your Group Benefits Plan



There are currently over 300,000 authorized users of medical cannabis across Canada and 104,000 in Alberta alone. With that comes added pressures for insurance carriers to include cannabis as an eligible drug expense. Some carriers have already stepped forward with programs – typically they offer coverage for a limited number of conditions such as HIV and other chronic conditions.


With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis, there may be increased interest in medical cannabis as a viable treatment option for a range of health issues – even though medical cannabis has been legal for a long time.


Medical cannabis works by introducing extra cannabinoids into the patient’s system. These act similarly to natural compounds produced by our bodies called endocannabinoids. Our natural endocannabinoid system helps to regulate many functions including pain perception, stress and emotional regulation, sleep, immune system, reproduction, digestion, and inflammation.


Not all medical cannabis causes a high, and it can be consumed in several different forms including dried buds (inhalants), oils taken by mouth, or topical creams. While dried cannabis, the most common form, costs about $10 per gram, other forms such as oils can cost more. The form and amount of cannabis used to treat a particular condition varies by patient.


Only cannabis products from licensed producers would be eligible for coverage under any benefit plan. Products purchased through dispensaries, compassion clubs or other storefronts are not eligible.


Before deciding to add medical cannabis to your benefits plan, there are a couple of important steps. First, take a pulse check to see if employees would value medical cannabis. Next, determine whether your insurance carrier will cover medical cannabis and at what level. Some carriers have embedded additional services such as strain selection support and education.


It's also important to keep these factors in mind:

  • It is costly: Combined with the fact that the overall limit is typically less than $3,000, determining whether the corresponding premium increase would be worth the potential benefit to your pool of employees.

  • Additional Health Risks: Cannabis containing THC can cause impairment, which could be safety concern in the workplace. Regular use of cannabis may cause lung damage, and dependence or addiction are possible, and long-term use may increase risk of anxiety, depression, and psychosis.

If you already have a Health Spending Account (HSA), your employees can use it to cover medical cannabis as well as the other health and dental expenses that CRA allows. If you don't already offer an HSA, consider these additional advantages:

  • Money allocated to these accounts becomes a benefit to all employees – the money can be used for any eligible expense – not just medical cannabis but also vision care, coinsurance amounts, or claims not eligible under your core plan.

  • Your investment in an HSA doesn't change, so you are limiting your exposure to premium increases if demand for the medication be higher than expected.