Netherlands health insurers will stop covering prescriptions for medical cannabis patients at the end of July 2017. This is becoming quite a controversial issue, as medical cannabis has been legal on prescription since 2003 and most insurance companies paid up till now.
Why the sudden change in policy? Dutch News explored the issue and asked a few questions. There are a few role players in the situation, and obviously the government is the first to be questioned. What is the message the Health Department is sending out to insurers and the public alike?
Insurers own decision
Zorg Institute Nederland, the official organization which advises insurers and the government on medication efficacy and feasibility, claims there are no conditions for which medical cannabis patients is a suitable treatment. In practice, insurers are free to interpret the guidelines.
However, the Bureau for Medical Cannabis (BMC) overseeing the regulation and distribution of legal medicinal cannabis, says cannabis acts on the endocannabinoid system. It says cannabis is effective as a treatment for some conditions.
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Biggest says no to medical cannabis patients
Zilveren Kruis/Achmea, one of the best-known health insurers in the Netherlands, announced it would stop coverage from July 2017. Many other health insurance companies followed suit. One would think that this presents an opportunity for a company to draw customers by saying: “We will cover you. Come to us.”
Meanwhile, many Dutch people are medical cannabis patients. Will they have to give up their treatment?
Netherlands awarded certification
Bedrocan, the only licensed government supplier of medical cannabis through the BMC, has just received the coveted Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification from the European Medical Agency. This seal of approval will lead to an estimated three-ton production in 2017. The German government announced the legalization of medical cannabis in January. Bedrocan will be supplying Germany with 350 kilos, doubling up over the next few years.
Germany demands coverage for patients
The German government announced that it requires insurers to cover medical cannabis for conditions such as MS. This contrasts with the new stance in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Health Minister has backtracked fast. He says insurers can decide whether they want to provide cover. The government has not changed any advice in the past six months to instigate the change in insurance policies. This was an unacceptable excuse, angry patients say. Shortly afterward, the minister’s spokesperson announced that a new review would include the latest scientific research into medicinal cannabis.
The minister asked the national health institute and the BMC to draw up a review in order to provide insurers with a recommendation based on international research.
Have the Dutch lost their progressive mindset?
Patients are adamant they can’t go back to treatments that don’t work. Readers commented on the Netherlands starting to lag behind other countries such as Israel and Canada. It seems 2017 will be an important year for medical cannabis patients in the Netherlands. Will insurance companies cover them? The government’s report will be the deciding factor.