Jacksonville, FL – The ongoing challenges, risks, and planned approaches surrounding the use of medical marijuana in workers’ compensation must continue to be discussed and strategized, according to Kevin Glennon, RN, Vice President of Clinical Education and Quality Assurance Programs at One Call Care Management.
Glennon delivered the session, “Medical Marijuana in Workers’ Compensation,” at the 2015 Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) Conference held in Houston, June 7 – 10.
Currently, medical marijuana has been legalized in 23 states and the District of Columbia; in these regions, marijuana can be recommended for a variety of medicinal purposes. One of the key challenges, however, is the disparity between that state and Federal law on the subject of medical marijuana.
“The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I substance, making it a crime to cultivate, distribute or possess this drug,” noted Glennon. “This creates scenarios in which an individual may be recommended medical marijuana by a physician, but can be fired, if marijuana is then detected in random drug tests as part of a Drug Free Workplace. In national polls, a growing majority of Americans—as much as 78 percent—support medical marijuana, and there are Federal bills currently proposed to change marijuana’s classification, which would be a real game-changer if passed.”
In workers’ compensation, medical marijuana is most recommended to manage chronic or severe pain. “However, payers rely on evidence-based guidelines to make treatment decisions. Medical marijuana is not FDA-approved, has not undergone clinical trials in the U.S., and is not included in any workers’ compensation treatment guidelines. As a result, payers are within their rights to categorically deny coverage.”
Ultimately, however, treatment decisions may come down to courts ruling on what is considered “reasonable and necessary.” There is significant leeway for interpretation, especially since cases may be unique and complex. For example, in a New Mexico case, an appellate court ruled that a workers’ compensation carrier must reimburse a 55-year-old former mechanic for medical marijuana used to alleviate pain from a work-related back injury. The ruling arguably allowed the carrier to avoid paying directly for a drug deemed illegal under Federal law.
Employers must also consider employee safety, if the momentum for legalization continues. Although marijuana affects individuals in different ways and depends on frequency of use and dosage, studies show that marijuana can impair cognition, balance and coordination, and decrease alertness and delay reaction time. These effects pose safety hazards, especially if users operate heavy machinery or drive vehicles.
Source: One Call