8 Mar. 2019

NH Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Reimbursement on State Level

Posted By Shaheen & Gordon, P.A.

In an interesting development in a workers’ compensation case litigated by Attorney Jared O’Connor — a Partner of Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. — the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that state law does not prohibit the reimbursement of medical marijuana treatment costs in a workers’ compensation insurance policy or claim. The case made its way up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after a lower administrative agency ruled otherwise, which the higher court found erroneous.

Decades ago, in 1991, Attorney O’Connor’s client suffered a back injury at work that still causes health complications and pain to this day. After New Hampshire approved a state-level medical marijuana program, the client was certified for the program by his medical provider, allowing him to purchase therapeutic cannabis from an approved Plymouth dispensary at the price of $170. He sent the bill to his workers’ compensation insurance provider, only to be denied reimbursement, claiming the treatment was not “reasonable or necessary.” The Labor Department agreed after holding a hearing that the treatment was reasonable, but refused to order the insurance carrier to pay for the treatment because it believed both federal law and New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis statute barred reimbursement of the cost of that drug.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the Labor Department misread New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis statute, and held that the law does not create any exceptions in the workers’ compensation carrier’s ongoing obligation to pay for all of the claimant’s reasonable medical treatment – up to and including his use of therapeutic cannabis.

However, the looming question remains whether federal law presents a bar to reimbursement. State-level medical marijuana programs are arguably in tension with federal law, which continue to list marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic that is illegal to possess. However, because the workers compensation insurance carrier is not itself being asked to possess or distribute the drug, the parties dispute whether an order to reimburse would place the carrier in violation of federal law. The New Hampshire Supreme Court sent the case back to the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board to further develop the record and assess that legal question in more detail.

Attorney O’Connor believes the Appeals Board will review the case in the next four months or so. He also predicts whoever “loses” the review will surely appeal the decision back to the Supreme Court for final review. For the time being, though, he is certain the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling is a positive win for his client by clearing any state-level legal hurdle to his client receiving the medical care he is entitled to under the workers’ compensation law

For more information about this developing story, you can click here to view a full article from the New Hampshire Union Leader, which features Attorney O’Connor. More information can also be found in this comprehensive PDF file. To learn more about Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. and our various legal services, you can contact us to get connected with the location nearest you. We have law offices throughout New Hampshire and Maine for client convenience.

Categories: Workers' Compensation
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