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Insurance company pays for medical marijuana

Medical cannabis red crossAfter a hard-fought battle, Jonathan Zaid’s medical marijuana is being paid for by his private insurance company — a feat some industry insiders say is unprecedented.

Now, the third-year University of Waterloo student, who suffers from a rare illness called new daily persistent headache, is hoping this victory clears the way for other patients seeking coverage for cannabis.

“I had to fight a lot of battles to get to where I am,” says the 22-year-old Toronto native. “My persistence paid off in the end.”

Last summer, Zaid submitted a claim for his medical marijuana to insurance giant Sun Life Financial. It was denied. Insurance companies don’t typically pay for cannabis. Although medical marijuana is federally regulated it is not an approved medicine in Canada and has no Drug Identification Number (DIN).

But Zaid wouldn’t give up. He was frustrated with always asking his parents for money to buy his “medicine” from a licensed producer. And after trying 48 different drugs over the years, only marijuana eased his chronic headaches. He figured it should be recognized as prescription medication — after all, it was prescribed by a doctor.

Zaid, the son of a retired lawyer, presented research on his condition and the medicinal benefits of marijuana to an oversight committee of the University of Waterloo student union, which administers the student health plan. It would be up to the student association as the plan’s sponsor — that’s the organization or employer that sets up the healthcare plan — to ask Sun Life to make an exception.

Student Ben Balfour, who is part of the committee, says there was initial concern about approving Zaid’s request because it was their first time dealing with marijuana.

“We were testing the waters and we didn’t know how people would react,” says Balfour, vice-president of operations and finance for the Federation of Students.

But after much back and forth between Zaid and the committee, which includes a physician, his request was approved in December. The committee found Zaid’s evidence to be persuasive, that the plan could support the cost and that having Zaid’s medicinal marijuana covered would positively impact his academic success and wellbeing.

“It’s really something new and I was very excited to be a part of it,” says Balfour. “I’m just very glad that we were able to figure it all out in the end.”

By Isabel Teotonio
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