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Insurers may reimburse injured workers for medical pot: Court

med marijuana

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled Friday that the state’s medical marijuana law does not prohibit insurers from reimbursing injured workers for medical marijuana in cases where the drug is used to treat accepted work injuries.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that the state’s Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board erred when it upheld a decision by Firestone Tire & Rubber to deny reimbursement for the cost of Paul Sheetz’s medical marijuana.

Sheetz, now deceased, used medical marijuana to treat chronic pain from a 1977 work injury. He used the drug to ween off decades of prescribed opioid use.  

“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,” Jenifer Kaufman, the Abington, Pennsylvania-based attorney who represented the claimant’s estate, said after Friday’s ruling. “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.”  

Firestone argued it would violate federal law if forced to reimburse for medical marijuana, which is illegal federally, but the court ruled reimbursement is not a federal crime because insurers are not prescribing the drug themselves.