Medical marijuana users now fighting insurers

A marijuana leaf is seen in this stock photo by Getty Images.

While the country’s top court has recently legalized all forms of medical marijuana, insurance companies continue to make it tough for prescription pot users to get coverage.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that individuals with medical marijuana prescriptions can take the drug in any form, from the traditional “dried form,” to edible marijuana, vaporizers, and brownies. This was a significant win for the plaintiffs, as carrying alternate forms of marijuana by prescription holders would previously result in trafficking charges under the Criminal Code.

The insurance industry, however, is still not clear on prescription marijuana users and how to classify them.

All provinces have legislation that makes an insurance policy null and void if the applicant fails to disclose a material fact, such as using medical marijuana, in the application. An example is the British Columbia Insurance Act that says “failure to disclose or misrepresentation ... renders the contract voidable by the insurer.” 

This means the insurer may choose not to pay out the claim if it’s revealed the insured did not disclose something that affects how much risk the insurer would assume. Other provinces use similar wording in their insurance acts. 

Smoking is viewed as an important risk factor, as it has been shown to lead to the development of cancer and heart attacks and a lower life expectancy. Most insurers use a Smoking Status Declaration that asks whether the applicant has smoked in the previous six to 12 months. Making a false declaration about smoking could easily amount to insurance fraud.

But how about prescription marijuana users?

Now that all forms of the drug are legal for prescription holders, the usage could be limited to a lighter form, which may not be accompanied with significant health hazards compared to tobacco. Yet, the insurance industry does not make a distinction and applies the same rules across the board, which means insurance premiums for medical marijuana users would be double that of non-smokers. 

This week, Life and Health Insurance Association spokeswoman Wendy Hope told the CBC that a marijuana user would be treated "similar to someone who is smoking, but that person is not necessarily classified as a smoker."

If we think about the “duty to disclose,” the use of prescription marijuana may very well qualify as a material fact that must be declared to allow the insurer to judge the risk of insuring an individual. Whether it represents similar risks as those associated with smoking tobacco is a completely separate issue.

It begs the question: would it not be better to employ a specific declaration for prescription marijuana usage?

Now that it’s supported by the medical community and the top court in the land, medical marijuana should also get a break from insurers.
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