Tag Archives: Shoppers Drug Mart

Changing coverage for medical marijuana

Health Canada statistics reveal the number of Canadians with prescriptions for medical marijuana more than tripled between the fall of 2015 and 2016 from 30,537 people to nearly 100,000 individuals. And with legalized marijuana for recreational use slated to come into effect July 1, 2018, it is expected that use of the drug will soar.

In response to the proliferation of legal marijuana use, life and health insurance companies have had to rethink several aspects of their pricing and coverage including whether or not:

  • Individual life insurance applicants using marijuana must pay smokers’ rates
  • Benefit plans will reimburse clients for the cost of medical marijuana.

Smoker/Non-smoker rates
Until the last several years, marijuana users applying for individual life insurance had to pay smokers’ rates. For example, a man in his 30s could expect to pay about two to three times as much for a policy than a non-smoker. A smoker in his 40s could expect to pay three to four times as much.

Insurance companies charged this massive price increase because smokers have a much higher risk of death than non-smokers. In addition, smokers often have other health problems like poor diets or an inactive lifestyles.

Within the last two years, the following insurers in Canada announced their plans to begin underwriting medical and recreational marijuana users as non-smokers, including:

  • Sun Life
  • BMO Life Insurance
  • Canada Life
  • London Life
  • Great-West Life

Sun Life is taking the most comprehensive approach, saying it will treat anyone who consumes marijuana but doesn’t smoke tobacco as a non-smoker. BMO Life Insurance is more restrained, limiting non-smoker status to people using only two marijuana cigarettes per week. Canada Life, London Life, and Great-West Life issued a joint statement which said that “clients who use marijuana will no longer be considered smokers, unless they use tobacco, e-cigarettes or nicotine products.”

This change won’t affect group benefits as coverage is not individually underwritten. An article on Advisor.ca includes a chart comparing where a series of major Canadian life insurers stand on pot use.

Drug plan coverage
So, what about coverage for medical marijuana under your benefits plan?

If your coverage includes a health care spending account (HCSA), you are in luck. Medical marijuana is an eligible expense under HCSAs because the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) allows it to be claimed as a medical expense on income tax returns. Note that only marijuana is eligible under CRA medical exempt items, not vaporizers or other items used to consume it.

However, even though physicians are prescribing cannabis and people are using it for medical reasons, it is not currently covered under almost all traditional drug benefits. That’s because Health Canada hasn’t reviewed it for safety and effectiveness or approved it for therapeutic use the way it reviews and approves all other prescription drug products.

This means marijuana hasn’t been assigned a drug identification number (DIN), which the insurance industry usually requires before a drug can be covered. Until there is research that can be reviewed by Health Canada, marijuana will remain an unapproved drug and unlikely to be covered by your plan.

However several recent events suggest that it may be only a matter of time until group and individual drug plans offer at least limited coverage for medicinal marijuana.

Jonathan Zaid, a student at the Umiversity of Waterloo is the executive director of the group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. He has a rare neurological condition that causes constant headaches, along with sleep and concentration problems. Zaid said he was sick for five years before even considering medical cannabis. He tried 48 prescription medications, along with multiple therapies, all of which were covered by his insurer without question – except for medical cannabis.

After eight months of discussions, the student union (who administers the student health plan) came to the conclusion that they should cover it because it supports his academics and should be treated like a medication.

Similarly, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Board ruled in early 2017 that Gordon Skinner’s employee insurance plan must cover him for the medical marijuana he takes for chronic pain following an on-the-job motor vehicle accident. Inquiry board chair Benjamin Perryman concluded that since medical marijuana requires a prescription by law, it doesn’t fall within the exclusions of Skinner’s insurance plan.

Perryman said the Canadian Elevator Industry Welfare Trust Plan contravened the province’s Human Rights Act, and must cover his medical marijuana expenses “up to and including the full amount of his most recent prescription.”

And at least one major company is covering employees for medical marijuana in very specific circumstances. In March 2017, Loblaw Companies Limited and Shoppers Drug Mart announced in an internal staff memo that effective immediately it will be covering medical pot under the employee benefit plan up to a maximum of $1,500 per year for about 45,000 employees.

Claims to insurance provider Manulife “will be considered only for prescriptions to treat spasticity and neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy for cancer patients,” said Basil Rowe, senior vice-president of human resources at Loblaw Companies Ltd., owner of Shoppers, in the memo.

“These are the conditions where the most compelling clinical evidence and literature supports the use of medical marijuana in therapy,” explained Loblaw/Shoppers spokesperson Tammy Smitham. “We will continue to review evidence as it becomes available for other indications (conditions).”

Since cannabis does not yet have a Drug Identification Number recognized by insurers, it isn’t covered under typical drug spending. However, it will be covered through a special authorization process where plan members will pay and submit their claim after, said Smitham.

The move could trickle down to other Canadian employers and their benefit plans and even set a precedent, Paul Grootendorst, an expert on insurance and reimbursement and director of the division of social and administrative pharmacy in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto told the Toronto Star.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Apr 20: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Spring has definitely sprung in our neck of the woods and yesterday I woke up to a neighbourhood of happy smiling people wbiking, jogging and cleaning garages.

This week we feature a blog from Blonde on a Budget Cait Flanders who is nine months into her shopping ban. Of course, as she notes in Nine Months Without Shopping and Takeout Coffee, she gets to make up the rules as she goes along. So she discarded a ripped pair of jeans and replaced them. She also broke her “no take out coffee” ban a few times when she was out with friends. Nevertheless, she has upped her savings goal from $100/month at the beginning of the period to $250/month and she has a nice little nest egg to show for it.

On Boomer & Echo, Robb Engen writes about how we can always find joy in the smallest things like using a cash back credit card for his everyday purchases. I know what he means. I prefer my travel rewards credit cards, but it feels great when I accumulate enough points at Shoppers Drug Mart or Longo’s and the cashier asks me if I want to take $20 or $30 off my bill.

Sean Cooper writes on Retire Happy about three More Costly Pension Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. They are: not updating your spouse and beneficiary designations; not joining your company pension plan right away; and, not starting your pension as soon as you are entitled to a unreduced pension.

The question that every person who is saving for retirement struggles with is Will they run short in Retirement? As part of the Masters of Money series on GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca, Allison Griffiths acknowledges that few working people have any idea how much money they will need and she offers an approach to budgeting that can help them nail down these elusive numbers.

Spring is the time when new university and college graduates hit the street looking for their first career position. On stupidcents.com blogger Tom Drake discusses best careers for the future. With baby boomers aging in the next 20 years, he says those who are involved in health care such as dental hygienists, registered nurses and physical therapy assistants will be in demand. But software developers and construction equipment operators are also growth areas.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

 

Coupon websites that can save you money

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I must confess that at least once or twice when looking for something to distract me on the treadmill at the gym, I’ve watched Extreme Couponing and felt a little guilty. I can’t imagine spending hours every day looking for coupons, plotting my shopping strategy and stockpiling items I may never use. But it seems sinful somehow to pass up obvious bargains.

While the best source of coupons used to be newspapers and grocery store fliers, a big chunk of the business has gone online. In many cases coupons can also be downloaded to your mobile device. So I did some internet research to find the best Canadian coupon websites for those of you who are interested in taking advantage of these deals.

On yummymummyclub.ca, Sarah Deveau rates the following as the top five coupon sites in Canada and provides explanations for what you can expect to find.

Save.ca

The site offers coupons for baby formula, pet food, juice and plenty more. The selection changes frequently and they do impose limits on how many coupons you can request per household. Check out their sister site flyerland.ca for flyer deals, coupons, contests and more.

brandsaver.ca

This Procter & Gamble website offers coupons for their best-selling products, from laundry detergent to toothpaste and nearly everything in between. They also offer free samples. Check back often as supplies are limited and featured products change frequently.

Groceryalerts.ca

This is primarily a grocery coupon and grocery deals site, but shoppers can also read articles on how to shrink their grocery bill using coupons and sales, find recipes and check out product reviews. All coupons and policies are verified prior to being posted by Canadian founders Steven and Lina Zussino. Follow them on Facebook for breaking deals and limited quality sample giveaways.

smartcanucks.ca

On one of the top coupon sites for Canadians, users can not only print coupons directly from this website, but they can also trade coupons with others across the country. You can register for the forums and find out where the best sales and deals are at every major retailer in the country.

entertainment.com

The Entertainment Book has a 50 year history providing coupons for thousands of businesses in 145 cities across North America. So you can’t go wrong by picking up your Saskatchewan copy, as well as a copy for any cities you plan on visiting during the year. If you miss the school kids selling the book, you can usually buy the current Entertainment book at up to 50% off the regular price a few months into the season (no coupon required!).

However, before you embark on a full-scale campaign to save mega-bucks by couponing, read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Great Coupon experiment, also by Sarah Deveau. She managed to save $20 on diapers that were already on sale at Toys R Us but concluded that it definitely wasn’t worth the time she had put into the project. Furthermore, she says even stacking two or three coupons on one product wasn’t enough to price it lower than its lesser priced, no-name brand cousin.

I’m not a big fan of coupons, but I am reasonably diligent about using my loyalty cards from places where I shop regularly. At Shoppers Drug Mart and Longo’s in Toronto points accumulate with every purchase that can be redeemed for dollars on a future purchase. Sobey’s points are converted to Air Canada points.

Do you use coupon sites or loyalty cards that have saved you a bundle? Share your money saving tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

Beginning in January we will be mixing things up a bit, and in addition to blogs that discuss ways to save money so you can save more for retirement, we will be interviewing our favourite financial bloggers, reviewing books that will help you better manage your finances and rolling out a monthly Retirement Savings 101 series.

The team at Saskatchewan Pension Plan wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season.