In a decision released last Thursday, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that a labor appeals board was wrong to deny reimbursement for medical marijuana through workers’ compensation insurance. The court failed, however, to resolve whether an insurance company could be prosecuted for it under federal law.
The case focuses on Andrew Panaggio, 59, who injured his back at work, and was approved by the state Health Department in 2016 to participate in the therapeutic cannabis program. Panaggio used medical marijuana to combat his ongoing pain, and had sought reimbursement through workers’ compensation. The insurance company denied the request, stating that it was not necessary.
Panaggio sent his case back to the board, which found that medical marijuana was “medically necessary” for him. He was once again denied payment because “possession of marijuana is still a federal crime,” and the insurance company would be exposing itself to potential criminal prosecution.
According to the court, the board failed to identify a federal statute or legal authority in its decision.
After being denied his reimbursement claim, Panaggio turned to the state compensation appeals board. The board rejected the insurer’s argument and cited Panaggio’s testimony that medical marijuana reduced his need for opiates. Panaggio’s use, they said, was medically necessary and reasonable. However, the board still denied reimbursement.
The board stated that in addition to the prosecution issue, there was nothing in the therapeutic cannabis law statute “shall be construed to require” health insurance providers to be liable for reimbursements claims related to medical marijuana. This applies to workers’ compensation insurance carriers as well, according to the board.
The court, however, said the state workers’ compensation law does not deny this type of reimbursement.
Panaggio argued that the board failed to explain why the carrier may not be ordered to comply with state law obligations to reimburse claimants for their medical treatment. Panaggio’s use and possession of medical marijuana only violates federal law, not state law.
The New Hampshire case isn’t the first to address whether employers have to pay for medical marijuana for injured employees.
In Maine, the state supreme court ruled that federal law takes precedence and ruled against a paper mill worker who was injured on the job in 1989.
According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, at least five states found that medical marijuana is reimbursable under workers’ compensation laws, including Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine and New Mexico.
North Dakota, Michigan and Florida have passed laws that exclude medical marijuana from workers’ compensation reimbursement.Updated Date: 11 March 2019, 19:03