Andrew Watson is a 39-year-old lumberyard worker who lives in New Jersey. Back in 2008, he seriously injured his hand in a power saw accident. Ever since he has suffered from long-lasting neuropathic pain. As is typical for cases like Watson’s, doctors prescribed opiate painkillers. Watson, however, had another idea. In 2014, he signed up for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and legally purchased several ounces from a local dispensary. And he wanted his insurance company to reimburse him. Of course, the company refused. However, after years of fighting the insurance company in court, Watson finally won. Last month, Judge Ingrid French ruled that his insurance company had to pay for his medical cannabis treatment.
Setting An Important Precedent
According to Philly.com, Judge French made her ruling after hearing testimony from Watson and a psychiatrist and neurologist named Edward H. Tobe. Tobe’s argument about the benefits of medical cannabis and the dangers of opiates persuaded Judge French. Tobe made the case that medical marijuana would help reduce the risk of addiction and other dangerous side effects associated with prescription painkillers. He also said that using marijuana to treat pain would allow Watson to recover more completely from his injury.
The judge wrote in her opinion that Watson’s arguments were convincing, as well. Watson testified that the effects of cannabis were far less debilitating than the effects of his Percocet and Oxycodone prescriptions. Watson also helped to show the court the legitimacy and reality of the medical marijuana community. Judge French described Watson as “cautious, mature, and overall exceptionally conscientious in managing his pain.”
That ultimately led to the decision in Watson’s favor. The court ruled that medical cannabis was indeed “reasonable and necessary,” especially since traditional treatments – i.e. addictive painkillers – were not successful. It’s a decision that could set an important precedent for the future. In fact, a court in New Mexico made a similar ruling in early 2016. It’s possible that insurance companies could soon be forced to pay for legal medical cannabis treatments across the board.
A Benefit To Insurance Companies
One of the most frustrating aspects of Watson’s case has to do with his insurance company’s willingness to pay for opiates and prescription painkillers, but not for medical cannabis. At first, the company called Gallagher Bassett argued that Watson’s condition wasn’t eligible for medical marijuana under the New Jersey program. They also had an issue with the fact that the doctor who made the marijuana recommendation was not Watson’s main doctor. Ultimately, the judge denied the credibility of both of those claims.
But Philip Faccenda, the lawyer who represented Watson, said the ruling could help show insurance companies how medical cannabis could benefit them, too. Faccenda said that medical marijuana could reduce spending on more expensive drugs since cannabis is relatively cheap. He thinks the court’s decision could lead to significant savings for companies in the workers’ compensation industry.
Watson himself stopped using cannabis to treat the pain in his hand back in 2014. He said he couldn’t afford to continue paying for it on his own. After Judge French’s decision, though, Watson plans to resume using medical cannabis. Not only does his insurance company have to pay for the marijuana he bought in 2014, but it also has to pay for all the medical weed Watson buys in the future.