Medical marijuana reaches societal “tipping point” with WC consequences

Producers who haven’t talked medical marijuana with their workers’ comp clients are risking big consequences, one expert says.

Insurance News


The issue of medical marijuana in the workers’ comp arena is approaching a crucial “tipping point,” and producers who haven’t taken action on behalf of their clients could be in for some nasty surprises.

That’s the message from PRIUM Senior Vice President Mark Pew, a 30-year workers’ comp vet and opinion leader on the medical marijuana front. It was also the message of a roundtable discussion at the 2014 CLM Annual Conference in Florida.

Hosted by PRIUM’s Scott Yasko, the discussion will center on the clinical risks and benefits of medical marijuana, as well as potential legal liabilities and state-mandated payment. It’s all part of rampant industry-wide concern on medical marijuana and its future in workers’ compensation, Pew told Insurance Business.

“It’s definitely a concern—especially given these stories that tug at the heartstrings about seizures that can only be controlled by marijuana,” Pew said. “The question is, should there be constraints around it, or should it just be locally legalized?”

Pew said that payers in general have not committed to providing coverage for medical marijuana treatment, and “water cooler talk” suggests many payers are at odds on how to proceed. Some have even failed to address the issue altogether. And that could be a problem if agents don’t discuss the issues with employers up front—especially given the dissonance between state and federal law.

“Brokers may need to proactively bring up medical marijuana—whether the employer will accept it as a treatment option, how it will be controlled, and how the PBM will enforce formularies,” Pew said. “At the moment it’s not a strategic discussion, but it needs to be.”

If producers don’t take this first step of establishing consistent standards when it comes to medical marijuana, the employer could be left open to both federal lawsuits and workplace liabilities in which an employee using marijuana paid for by the employer injures themselves or another worker.

Pew believes society as a whole is on a “tipping point,” with a slender majority perhaps in favor of allowing medical marijuana as a treatment option. As such, employers and their insurance agents need to make strategic decisions ahead of time to protect both their workers and themselves.

“Medical marijuana is a societal inevitability, and workers’ comp professionals need to figure out how they’ll deal with it,” he said. “In many cases, the train has left the station and you’ll either be riding the train or driving the train, or you’re going to get run over by the train.”

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