Plan sponsors, members increasingly open to medical cannabis use: survey

Both plan sponsors and plan members are more open to the use of medical cannabis than they were five years ago, according to a new survey by Spectrum Therapeutics, a Canopy Growth Corp. Co.

The survey, produced by Benefits Canada‘s publisher Context Group Inc., polled more than 250 plan sponsors and 800 patients who use authorized medical cannabis. It found 78 per cent of plan sponsors are more open to their employees’ use of medical cannabis than they were five years ago, while 69 per cent of plan members said the same.

Both groups are more open because they’re more convinced of its effectiveness (36 per cent of plan members, 36 per cent of plan sponsors), they feel it’s more accepted (35 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively) and because more information and research has become available (31 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively).

Read: Employer obligations around medical pot, benefits plans

In addition, 82 per cent of plan sponsors and 85 per cent of plan members agreed that medical cannabis products, if authorized by a physician or nurse practitioner, should be covered by group benefits plans. With that said, 72 per cent of plan sponsors said they’re concerned about the impact of medical cannabis on workplace safety. Of those plan sponsors, 34 per cent strongly agreed they’re concerned.

And importantly, survey respondents said they’d like more knowledge, with 78 per cent of plan sponsors and 69 per cent of plan members saying they’re interested in learning more about the medical uses of cannabis.

Patients who are using medical cannabis reported using it to try to alleviate symptoms related to anxiety or stress (57 per cent), chronic non-cancer pain (54 per cent), sleep disorders or insomnia (47 per cent), depression (27 per cent), nausea and vomiting (14 per cent ), headaches (13 per cent), post-traumatic stress disorder (11 per cent) and migraines (11 per cent).

Read: Medical questions, regulations create confusion for medical pot coverage

The survey also found, among patients with a workplace benefits plan, 13 per cent said their plan provides coverage for medical cannabis, while 13 per cent of plan sponsors said they cover the drug. About a third of both plan sponsors (31 per cent) and patients (29 per cent) indicated that coverage is available through a health-care spending account, while the remainder said it comes from the extended health benefits plan or the drug plan.

For plan sponsors that don’t cover medical cannabis, 37 per cent said they’re interested in providing coverage in the future. Among this group, the survey found an equal divide between covering any condition as long as it’s authorized by a physician (36 per cent) and adopting their insurer’s program for medical cannabis (30 per cent).

And, when it comes to the method of coverage, interested plan sponsors appeared to part ways from plan sponsors that are already providing coverage. Plan sponsors that are interested said they prefer the extended health plan (39 per cent), followed by the drug plan (25 per cent) and the health-care spending account (19 per cent).

Read: A roundup of benefits, HR and legal considerations around legalized marijuana