In May 2017, Iowa’s new Medical Cannabidiol Act made it legal to use cannabis to treat certain debilitating, severe medical conditions, including cancer, ALS, Crohn’s disease, and certain kinds of otherwise untreatable pain. Since workers’ compensation covers a wide variety of work-related injuries and chronic conditions, some covered conditions may be among those eligible under this law. Prospective medical marijuana patients must apply for a registration card with the state, pursuant to a doctor’s recommendation, before they can legally buy and use cannabis oil for medical purposes.
Although the act requires the state to select and license up to two medical cannabidiol (CBD) manufacturers to manufacture, possess, cultivate, harvest, transport, package, process, or supply medical cannabidiol in Iowa, it has not yet done so. This means patients would have to get the medicine from out of state. Since marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, banned in all forms for all purposes (including medical cannabidiol), transporting it in any form across state lines violates federal law and could result in significant penalties.
Getting Physician Approval for Medical Marijuana
Once you have notified your employer of your Iowa work-related injury, the employer and its workers’ compensation carrier have both the responsibility to cover your medical expenses and the right to choose the doctors who provide your care. While there are some options available for you to seek a second opinion regarding your course of recommended medical care or to change your appointed medical provider, Iowa workers’ compensation law does not generally permit you to see the physician of your choice. If the treating physician approved by your employer’s workers’ compensation carrier doesn’t recognize the benefits of medical marijuana or think it would be a beneficial option for your condition, it will be difficult for you to obtain approval or coverage of this treatment option from the carrier.
Will Workers’ Compensation Cover Medical Marijuana?
Surprisingly, there is legal precedent in Iowa for workers’ compensation to cover a doctor-recommended course of treatment using medical marijuana. In a case decided prior to Iowa’s medical marijuana law, a claimant who had been injured in Iowa moved to Oregon, where a doctor recommended medical marijuana for the injury related to her workers’ compensation claim. The Iowa Workers Compensation Commission found that both the costs of a similar state license fee and the marijuana for the injured worker’s treatment were compensable under the terms of Iowa law (despite Oregon law stating, “Nothing in the Medical Marijuana Act shall be construed to require a governmental medical assistant program or private health insurer to reimburse a person for costs associated with medical use of marijuana.”).
It remains to be seen, once Iowa certifies approved manufacturers and distributors of CBD products, whether the Iowa Division of Workers’ Compensation will issue any official guidance or opinions or whether the state legislature will enact a provision similar to Oregon’s regarding insurance coverage for medical cannabis products. It is likely that the legal landscape for medical cannabis treatment and coverage will shift dramatically in the coming years.
If you have been injured at work or have a chronic work-related medical condition, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can help you pursue a claim to get the medical care, benefits, and compensation you deserve. Contact the Platt Law Firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation.