June 24, 2019
America to Australia: A Cannabis Journey
by Lewis Fein
By what right should insurers deny coverage to an American seeking medical treatment through cannabis in Australia?
Health insurance is more a question of what, rather than how. As in: What programs and prescriptions should insurers cover? What services outside the U.S. should insurers support, if the science is strong and success substantial? What should the insurance industry do, in particular, about the rise of medicinal cannabis?
The questions are of a piece. Which is to say the questions involve issues both the ethical and the economic, the political and the personal, the fiscal and physical.
The questions raise a larger question: If insurers agree to cover cannabinoid medicines, because it is less expensive to travel outside the States than it is to transport these medicines across state lines, if what benefits patients is also beneficial to insurers, by what right should insurers deny coverage to an American seeking medical treatment in Australia?
Location is central to this issue, based on Australian advances in the development and use of medicinal cannabis.
Free of the conflicting state and federal laws that make medicinal cannabis legal in one city but criminal in another in the U.S., free of the battles between patients and insurers, Australia is true to its positive stereotype: a proto-America, with similar systems of language, culture, institutions, literature, history and tradition; a member of that English-speaking alliance of nations whose customs extend across the vale of years.
Medicinal cannabis is also legal throughout Australia.
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According to Asaf Katz, chief operating officer of Cannvalate, Australia is central to innovation and investment involving medicinal cannabis.
All the more reason, then, for insurers to champion that fact.
The alternative is to deny coverage and alienate patients, which is not conducive to winning the insurance industry friends or improving its ability to influence people—people whose collective influence registers in polls and at polling places, where they use ballots to reject the way insurers do business.
Avoiding that scenario is in the interests of all people.
If coverage for medical care in Australia is the price insurers must pay, if covering medicinal cannabis is the burden they must bear, it is a hardship they can meet.
In contrast, the cost of doing nothing is no small thing.
The cost manifests itself in legal fees.
The cost can be ruinous to an insurer’s reputation and its relationship with consumers. In turn, it can take years if not decades to undo a bad decision; so bad as to prove decisive to an insurer’s loss in revenues and drop in profits, resulting in protests from patients and investigations by politicians.
Better to take a more holistic approach to subsidizing medicinal cannabis. Better to look abroad—to look to centers in Australia—than to look away, while people suffer from chronic pain or struggle with the side effects of inferior and toxic medication.
Better to go down under than to go under, as the former lessens the probability that the latter will happen.
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Better for the insurance industry to have an international outlook to challenges within individual nations.
Better to solve these challenges—and stay solvent—than do nothing.