Pennsylvania Court Rules Medical Marijuana Costs Should Be Reimbursed by Workers’ Compensation Insurance Plans

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled today that the costs associated with the legal use of medical cannabis are eligible for reimbursement under workers’ compensation laws.

The court ruled that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board made a mistake when it upheld a decision by Firestone Tire & Rubber that denied the reimbursement costs for the medical marijuana used by employee Paul Sheetz.

“I am so excited that the Commonwealth Court, in their wisdom, agreed that workers comp carriers are required to reimburse injured workers who use medical marijuana to treat severe and often life-long injuries,” says Jenifer Kaufman, the attorney who represented the claimant’s estate. “This is a game-changer for those injured workers who have worked hard to get off dangerous and expensive opioids and are forced to pay the cost of medical marijuana treatment out of their fixed incomes.”

Ms. Kaufman said the case means insurers must reimburse marijuana costs in cases where the treatment is deemed “reasonable and necessary,” and that reimbursement would likely only come in serious or old injury cases where medical marijuana is the “primary treatment modality.”

Writing for the court, Judge Anne Covey said: “Employer’s failure to reimburse Claimant’s out-of-pocket costs for medical marijuana to treat his work-related injury is a violation of the WC [Workers’ Compensation] Act… The MMA [Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act] specifically mandates that no medical marijuana patients be denied any rights for lawful use of medical marijuana and the WC Act provides employees a statutory right to WC medical expenses that are reasonable and necessary to treat a work injury; therefore, if this Court was to agree with Employer, it would be removing those express protections from the MMA and the WC Act.”

The judge concludes: “Given the General Assembly’s clear declaration and intention in enacting the MMA, and the MMA’s unambiguous statutory language, it is free from doubt that the medical marijuana system the General Assembly created for the well-being and safety of patients, including claimants, was intended for them to have access to the latest medical treatments.”

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano described the Appellate Court’s ruling as further evidence of the legitimacy and social acceptance of medical cannabis. “For millions of patients, cannabis is a legitimate therapeutic option. More and more, lawmakers, regulators, and the courts are recognizing this fact and evolving their opinions and policies accordingly.”

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