Sun Life covers Waterloo U student’s medpot costs

Health insurance provider also springs for Volcano Medic vaporizer for Jonathan Zaid's New Daily Persistent Headache syndrome. That's smokin.'

The Cons’ medpot privatization plan is unaffordable to an overwhelming majority of chronically-ill Canadians, but University of Waterloo student Jonathan Zaid’s persistence has paid off.

His student insurance plan, provided by Sun Life Canada, is covering his cannabis costs.

“I can’t afford medical marijuana – I am a student! It’s very expensive, about $18 to $25 a day,” says the third-year student and founder of Canadians for Fair Access To Medical Marijuana (CFAMM). 

Zaid began a personal assignment to determine how he could be reimbursed for his medical marijuana purchases because without cannabis he couldn’t attend UW.

Zaid has a 24/7 headache from a neurological condition known as New Daily Persistent Headache, that began when he was 14 years-old. He’s tried a slew of pharma – 48 different prescription medications – but only cannabis has helped ease his pain.  

“I dropped out of high school,” he says. “My quality of life was low and my doctor was dismissive about medical marijuana because I was young. I gave up on medical cannabis and then my mom gave me a joint on my 18th birthday because she couldn’t stand to see me in pain. There was hope.”

Unfortunately, like many Canadians, Zaid couldn’t access weed under the old medical marijuana program and resorted to recreational dealers, which doesn’t work. One week your dealer has something that provides fantastic relief and the next their weed is different and it doesn’t relieve your symptoms at all.

Purchasing recreationally to use medically also creates strong feelings of stigma in many people.

Despite many opting for cannabis instead of opiates, medical marijuana patients are labeled potheads.

Zaid says this is something many young people, even those with legal protection to smoke weed, are very aware and leery of. For many, plenty of personal relief happens from this stigmatization when they receive a legal medpot prescription.

Zaid became hopeful he could access Health Canada’s new program because the feds were no longer involved in the application process.

He did become successful. By finding – like many Canadians – a sympathetic doctor who agreed to fill out the simple document for a fee.

But the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has just advised doctors against this practice. “The College considers the medical document authorizing patient access to dried marijuana to be equivalent to a prescription.”

Before CPSO came to that conclusion, Zaid argued before the University of Waterloo’s Health and Dental Committee his document constituted a prescription and ought to be covered by his student insurance provider.  

There’s an exception process for medications not covered and Zaid prepared to present his case, but the committee decided against him before he could make his case.

Unbeknownst to the committee, Zaid uses a strain of cannabis during the day that removes the stoney side effects. He wanted to explain this and show them the paperwork of all the prescriptions he tried and that had failed to help him. Licensed medpot producer Bedrocan provided support and research.  

Zaid was eventually permitted to present his case and convinced the committee made up of a physician, representatives of the Federation of Students, the Graduate Student Association and the university’s Health Services. 

“The purpose of our student Health and Dental Plan is to support the academic success and wellbeing of our student members,” says Jacqueline Martinz, communications coordinator for Waterloo’s Federation of Students. “Like all student initiatives, the Plan must balance cost and coverage to create a sustainable service for students.”

And so, the University of Waterloo Federation of Students insurance program, provided by Sun Life Canada, has become possibly the first to cover cannabis.

“It’s replacing expensive medication and saving them money,” Zaid says. Sun Life even covered the cost of a Volcano Medic Vaporizer, because it’s an approved medical device.

Zaid is assisting three other students from University of Toronto, Queen’s and Waterloo to have their medpot covered too.  

“It’s fairly common for universities to have these committees.” He hopes to connect with more patients through CFAMM.

“We’re going to put it to the test,” he says. | @nowtoronto

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