A new partnership between two health organizations will give businesses a chance to offer medical marijuana coverage as part of their workplace benefits packages to reduce out-of-pocket costs for employees who use cannabis therapeutically.
Bennabis Health, which describes itself as “dedicated to filling the holes in the health insurance industry for medical cannabis patients,” announced the partnership last week with New Jersey-based CannaCoverage, a cannabis consultant and insurance broker that works with the marijuana, CBD and hemp industries. Bennabis said in a press release that it’s the “first group health medical cannabis program” to offer the employee benefits.
Not a traditional insurance plan, Bennabis allows patients to get discounts on medical marijuana products. It’s an additional benefit available to employers that can be integrated into existing health benefit plans, a process handled by CannaCoverage. For people who don’t have benefits through an employer, Bennabis has an individual membership that qualifies patients for a 15 percent discount at participating dispensaries.
“Bennabis Health is not a plant touching entity,” the announcement release explains, “but rather contracts a network of participating medical dispensaries that also prioritize the importance of supporting patients in their cannabis journey.”
The release frames the announcement as an early example of a coming trend of normalizing medical marijuana coverage in workplace benefits, alluding to recent a recommendation from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) that marijuana be rescheduled under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
“With the recent recommendation of HHS to reschedule cannabis,” it says, “these two organizations anticipate legalization will occur in the near future. Schedule III will help normalize cannabis as medicine and the future of health care will include this new benefit option.”
“We are pleased to partner with Bennabis Health at a pivotal moment in history, as cannabis is legalized in the majority of states across the U.S.,” CannaCoverage co-founder and CEO Nichelle Santos said in a statement in the release. “The opportunity for cannabis to be rescheduled allows a pathway for medical cannabis as a multi-modal option and alternative to opioids and other synthetic prescription drugs.
According to the Bennabis’s website, its network includes dispensaries in three jurisdictions: five in New Jersey, one in Washington, D.C., and one in New Mexico. In an email to Marijuana Moment this week, the company confirmed that benefits are currently available only in those three states but added that it does “have a couple recent updates to make.”
“Our goal is to expand into all states that offer medical cannabis,” said Cynthia Tantum, who heads marketing at Bennabis. “We are open to talking with any medical cannabis dispensaries interested in joining the network.”
CannaCoverage co-founder and COO Jeff Booker said in a statement that the offering is not only “morally the right thing to do, but there is also an economic impact.”
“This is an opportunity to bring Bennabis Health to mainstream America in all industries, not just employers of the cannabis and hemp industries,” he said. “Through this alternative medical cannabis benefit, a tremendous cost savings will be realized in reduction of medical claims and prescription benefits, to impact the bottom line.”
The announcement comes just weeks after another healthcare benefits provider, Enthea, announced the offering of health benefit plans that cover ketamine-assisted therapy. Employers interested in offering the psychedelic therapy as a covered treatment, the company said, “can simply add it as an ancillary benefit, similar to dental and vision offerings.”
The soap company Dr. Bronner’s made headlines last year when it offered psychedelic-assisted therapy to workers through an Enthea employee health plan.
The 2022 partnership with Dr. Bronner’s, in which the soap company offered “free ketamine-assisted therapy to all benefit-eligible employees” through Enthea, led to about 7 percent of the company’s workforce signing up for the employer-provided benefit. The results were generally positive, with employees who received ketamine treatment reporting “dramatic improvements in mental health,” according to findings released in August.
Enthea says that its services will expand further to include MDMA- and psilocybin-assisted therapies “as they are approved.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated MDMA as a “breakthrough therapy” in 2017, and the substance is now on track for FDA consideration next year following successful Phase 3 clinical trials published last month in the journal Nature that found that MDMA-facilitated talk therapy reduced symptoms in patients with moderate to severe PTSD.
FDA released its first-ever draft guidance for psychedelics research in June.
As for cannabis rescheduling, two GOP senators recently filed a bill that would block federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without congressional approval.
A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report last month concluded, however, that it was “likely” that DEA would abide by the HHS rescheduling recommendation, which was made following an 11-month scientific review stemming from Biden’s directive.
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