Court to Decide Whether Medical Marijuana is Covered Under Workers’ Compensation 

The Maine Supreme Court is currently deciding whether a paper mill worker who was left suicidal by narcotic painkillers should receive workers’ compensation benefits for medical marijuana. It is the first time that the court has considered this question. The plaintiff, Gaetan Bourgoin, won a ruling from the state’s workers’ compensation board two years ago saying that the paper mill’s insurer must reimburse him for medical marijuana. He contends that marijuana is both cheaper and safer than narcotics. However, Twin Rivers Paper Co. and its insurer appealed the ruling, arguing that paying for pot use, even for medical purposes, could expose the company to prosecution, since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

Now that medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, insurers across the country have been confronted with the problem of whether they should cover medical marijuana. Compounding this problem is the byzantine tangle of state laws on reimbursement. For example, five states – Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico – have found medical marijuana treatment is reimbursable under their workers’ compensation laws, according to the National Council for Compensation Insurance. Florida and North Dakota, meanwhile, passed laws this year excluding medical marijuana treatment from workers’ compensation reimbursement.

This issue is a bit more complex in Georgia. While patients who are suffering from certain conditions are legally authorized to possess low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia, the sale, manufacture, and distribution of marijuana are still illegal, meaning that doctors are not allowed to prescribe it. Although nothing in Georgia’s workers’ compensation law specifically bars legal marijuana treatment, the law does state that insurance companies only have to pay for medical treatment that is authorized by a medical provider. Thus, because doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, workers’ compensation insurance companies do not currently pay for it in Georgia.

Bourgoin and other similarly-situated patients argue that the workers’ compensation system should provide for reimbursement for medical marijuana not only because of its inherent benefits but also because it would be a positive step toward curbing the current nationwide opioid epidemic. Many people who get hooked on opioid painkillers were originally prescribed the pills for pain management, but later become completely addicted to them. Bourgoin’s attorney stated that, “at one point, he was on such high doses [of opioids] that they were concerned about his oxygen levels a night. He became suicidal.” With over 15,000 people dying each year from overdoses of prescription painkillers, there is a strong argument to be made that, while not perfect, marijuana may be a safer alternative to opioids.

Contact an Atlanta Workers’ Compensation Attorney

If you have been denied reimbursement for any medically necessary drugs or procedures, you may be able to recover. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Fulton County, Cobb County, and DeKalb County.

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