Arizona Passes Work Comp Legislation for Medical Marijuana

by Tammy Odierna
Regulatory Data Analyst

The large amount of Medical Marijuana legislation nation-wide that exists within the first quarter of 2015 comes as no surprise.  In a previous blog, entitled “Medical Marijuana and Work Comp: The Year in Review and Looking Forward to 2015,” myMatrixx Clinical Pharmacist Alan Rook analyzed medical marijuana as it pertained to the 2014 year. After his analysis, Rook posed the question of “where do we go from here?”

New Arizona Law Clarifies Medical Marijuana Insurance Requirements

The 2015 Legislative session is slowly starting to answer that question.  On Monday, April 6, Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona signed into law Arizona House Bill 2346. This law amends the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in Arizona by establishing that nothing in the Act would require a workers’ compensation carrier or self-insured employer providing workers’ compensation benefits to reimburse a person for the costs associated with the medical use of marijuana.  This is a critical move, and speaks volumes to concerns that have been raised in the workers’ compensation industry.

medical marijuana workers comp law Arizona

Should injured workers be reimbursed for the cost of medical marijuana?

Since states have started legalizing medical marijuana, one of the main questions among workers’ compensation payers is whether they must pay for the drug when prescribed for a claimant in a state where it is legal.  With the passage of AZ HB 2346, Arizona now clearly states that payment is not required.

The Arizona Marijuana Act, passed by voters as “Proposition 203” in November 2010, allows a qualifying patient diagnosed by a physician with an outlined debilitating medical condition to obtain marijuana to treat or alleviate the condition.  The act includes language stating that a government medical assistance program or a private health insurer is not required to reimburse a person for costs associated with the medical use of marijuana. Nonetheless, no specific language mentions Workers’ Compensation.

New Mexico finds use of medical marijuana “reasonable and necessary”

On two separate occasions in 2014, the Court of Appeals in neighboring New Mexico ruled that a payer is required to reimburse an injured worker for the cost of medicinal marijuana, despite the payer’s argument that doing so would be in violation of federal law. After this decision, as stated in the Arizona Capitol Times, the Arizona Self-Insurers Association became concerned that self-insurers and workers’ compensation carriers would be required to pay for a patient’s medical marijuana.

Arizona is not alone in their concern.  In fact, in enacting AZ HB 2346, the state has followed other states, such as Montana and Vermont, in explicitly exempting Workers’ Compensation from reimbursement. As states continue to push for legalization of medical marijuana, there is an increased need for states to consider similar legislation that was enacted in Arizona to clarify workers’ compensation reimbursement issues.

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