Reimbursement for Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Comp Cases

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has found that qualified patients are entitled to reimbursements for the cost of medical marijuana under workers’ compensation insurance. The case was brought to the Supreme Court after a worker with a hurt back underwent a therapeutic cannabis program approved by the New Hampshire Health Department. The worker filed for reimbursement with his workers’ compensation insurance carrier but was denied because “medical marijuana is not reasonable/necessary or causally related” to his ailment.

The worker, Andrew Panaggio, then went before the New Hampshire Department of Labor to contest his insurance carrier’s decline to reimburse. After the Department of Labor ruled in favor of the insurance carrier, Panaggio appealed to the workers’ compensation board. The board found that Panaggio’s use of medical marijuana was a substitute for the need of opiates to reduce the pain from the injury. Even though they found that the use of marijuana was for the injury, they still ruled that the insurance carrier did not have to reimburse Panaggio.

Panaggio appealed further and the high court ruled that the board was wrong in prohibiting the insurance carrier from reimbursing him. Although state laws allow for the use of medical marijuana, federal laws still consider the possession of marijuana a crime. The insurance carrier claimed that they would be violating federal laws if they were to reimburse Panaggio.

With the increase in opioid addiction, many medical marijuana advocates are pushing for a restructuring of the system so that marijuana is prescribed for pain management. The problem for these advocates lies in the legalization of marijuana. Although it is legal for medical (and even recreational) use in many states, it is illegal at the federal level. The federal Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as Schedule 1 drug along the likes of heroine, MDMA and LSD. Schedule 1 drugs are characterized as having a high potential for abuse, no current accepted medical treatment use in the U.S., and lack of safety under medical supervision.

This has made it difficult for medical marijuana reimbursement in workers’ compensation cases. As state laws differ, so does every workers’ comp case. In cases that prove medical improvement from marijuana, the courts are typically ruling with the plaintiff. On the other hand, some states have passed legislation saying that insurers and employers are not required to cover medical marijuana fees.

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