Canadian campus council exploring options for cannabis coverage

As the push for pot legalization gathers steam, so does student interest it in health plans

With cannabis well on its way towards legalization in Canada, there’s been an increasing clamor among student bodies to have medical marijuana included in student health plans.

The Western Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) recently held a general meeting where they passed a motion to explore coverage under the society’s health plan, reports the Western Gazette.

The plan is set to be renegotiated in 2017, which will present a good opening to discuss medical marijuana with its plan provider. Getting coverage will be challenging, however, as Health Canada has not assigned a Drug Identification Number for marijuana; insurance companies often deny claims for medical pot on this basis.

That does not mean it’s impossible. In 2015, University of Waterloo student Jonathan Zaid set a precedent for case-by-case approval when he convinced the university and its plan provider, Sun Life, to approve a special request for coverage he had submitted.

Since there is still no set procedure for approval of pot coverage in university health plans, there remains a lot of grey area. For instance, SOGS president Tamara Hinan was unsure whether including medical marijuana would increase premiums on the students’ health plan. With negotiations for a new plan set to begin in the new year, she expects to have more information by late March.

“If any of the bidders come forward with a reasonable way of doing this, and the [SOGS health plan committee] wants to make that recommendation or wants to provide that as an option for debate at our council, we hope that it'll come back then,” she said.

Interest in pot’s inclusion in student health plans isn’t restricted to Western’s graduate students. University Students’ Council (USC) President Eddy Avila said that the USC has also been approached by students arguing for coverage under its undergraduate health plan. “We're not the only isolated incident. Different students at like, say Cape Breton or other institutions ... have also faced that as well,” he added.

The USC is a member of Canadian university coalition Campus Trust, which undertakes collective negotiation and purchase of benefit plans for its members. The trust is going to meet in January, during which an in-depth discussion on medical marijuana is planned.

“I think it's going to be tough to get fully secured within the actual plan just because right now we have no DIN,” said Avila. “But I think what we're really going to focus on is the specific exceptions and those accommodations to see how we can make sure it's a good service to all students and that we're benefitting [them] in the best way possible.”

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