Can private health insurance cover the cost of medical cannabis consultations?

by Katya Kowalski

Since the legalisation of cannabis medicines in the UK in 2018, the costs of medication have been steadily reducing for patients. However, medication costs are not the only expense that patients need to bear in mind. The consultation with a specialist clinician remains a regular and often significant cost for the patient to pay. Are there currently ways of getting private health insurance cover for medical cannabis in the UK?

Insurance case studies across Europe

Reimbursement for medical cannabis consultations has become common practice in countries like Germany and the Czech Republic.

Germany is one of the few countries globally where medical cannabis treatment can be covered under the public health insurance system. For patients with statutory health insurance, costs are only covered if previously approved by the insurance company. The process is lengthy and bureaucratic for both doctors and patients, and 30-40% of applications get rejected. However, last July, the Federal Joint Committee amended regulations around medical cannabis prescribing, making it easier to obtain insurance coverage for the medicine.

The Czech Republic is also progressive in its medical cannabis insurance cover. Since 2020, the country’s public health insurance system has provided support for 90% of costs reimbursed for up to 30 grams a month.

The health insurance situation in the UK for medical cannabis

The UK is well behind other European countries on this. Our public health insurance system (i.e. the NHS) does not reimburse medical cannabis as it is an unlicensed medicine and therefore only available privately. In addition, private health insurance providers in this country never cover the costs of any medicines prescribed privately; of which medical cannabis is obviously one example. Therefore the only consideration for private health insurance providers would be to cover the costs of consultations – which is not insignificant in the UK’s private health sector.

In order to reduce consultation costs, many cannabis clinics have created a system where appointments with specialists are short (around 15 minutes, with some reports online of being even shorter than this). This allows for consultations to be at a lower price point and for clinicians to focus on quickly and efficiently prescribing cannabis, with little holistic input into wider care.  

Our recent research suggests that outside of the traditional cannabis clinic model, there are ways of having consultations reimbursed. Patients who have private healthcare insurance, for which their condition is covered, are able to have the costs of their consultation covered. 

BUPA insurance and medical cannabis

At Volteface we examined the current BUPA healthcare policies to see if current medical cannabis consultations could be covered. From what we can see, appointments with consultants who are BUPA registered will be covered as long as treatment for the condition for which cannabis is prescribed is covered by the policy.

Understandably, many patients in the medical cannabis community do not have private healthcare insurance and struggle with the monthly costs of consultations and medication regardless. However, the fact that consultations have the potential to be reimbursed is a game changer for offering a route to lower monthly costs for some patients

Where can you find insurance covered specialists for medical cannabis?

There is currently a challenge in the UK medical cannabis industry with consultations not currently being covered by “cannabis clinics”. This is because patients with insurance must use a doctor that is covered by their policy, prescribing from a location specifically covered by their insurance provider, for the doctor they have chosen.

At the moment, to our knowledge no cannabis clinic has a designated location for any major insurer, such as BUPA.

However, if you use a function like Script Assist in a private healthcare setting, from what we can tell, patients can get their medical cannabis consultations reimbursed depending on their insurance cover.

Ben Hamburger, CEO and Founder of Script Assist shared with Volteface:

“We are pleased to be the first and only platform in the UK that enables patients to connect with independent specialist doctors that are experienced in medical cannabis prescribing. Up until now, the medical cannabis sector has not been embedded into mainstream healthcare practice. With tools like Script Assist as many of our doctors are covered by leading insurance providers, the option for private healthcare reimbursement is now possible. I’m delighted that our work at Script Assist is making access to medical cannabis easier for patients”

If you are looking to claim back consultation fees through your insurance as a patient, you should keep the following steps in mind: 

  1. Check your insurance cover: make sure to check whether your condition is covered by your insurance 
  2. Find a doctor: If using Script Assist, go to their digital doctor directory and see which doctors are covered by your insurance policy provider 
  3. Check doctors included in your policy: be sure to check with your insurance provider to confirm if the doctors available are included in your policy (many policy include all doctors covered by the provider)
  4. Request open letter of referral: Request this from your GP, it should detail your medical history and reason for referral to specialist, specific symptoms or issues to address, any previous treatments 
  5. Obtain your authorisation code 
  6. Connect with your chosen doctor and book in your consultation

Even though there is still a long way to go for medical cannabis to be affordable and accessible to all that need it, there is progress in the UK with increasing options for patients.

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