Auditor General Michael Ferguson says the estimated cost of providing medical marijuana to veterans will be around $25 million in the “2016–17 fiscal year, which would amount to almost a third of the drug costs under its Health Care Benefits Program.”
In his Spring Report tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ferguson said: “For veterans receiving coverage for marijuana for medical purposes, the average cost, according to Department data, was approximately $9,200 per veteran from 1 April 2015 to 31 December 2015.”
The report says that the drug benefits program managed by the Department was the only publicly funded plan in Canada that provides coverage for marijuana for medical purposes. “It is not an approved therapeutic product, and Health Canada has warned that its use involves risks to health, some of which may not be known or fully understood. Further, Veterans Affairs Canada approved coverage for 10 grams per day of marijuana for medical purposes. This is double the amount identified as being appropriate in Veterans Affairs Canada’s consultations with external health professionals, and more than three times the amount that Health Canada has reported as being most commonly utilized by individuals for medical purposes.”
According to the Department, its expenditures for marijuana for medical purposes rose significantly once the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect (Exhibit 4.1). Marijuana for medical purposes became the highest-cost item paid for under the drug component of its Health Care Benefits Program. Shortly after the regulations were implemented, the Department once again identified the need to contain the rising cost of marijuana for medical purposes by imposing a dollar-amount limit that would be paid per gram.
“We found that although it had identified this cost-effectiveness strategy, the Department did not implement it. It did not establish or try to negotiate any limit on payment per gram. It did, however, establish a cap on the quantity of marijuana for medical purposes (see paragraph 4.27) that a veteran could obtain coverage for through the program. However, at the time of the audit, this limit did not have a significant financial impact because it was capped at 10 grams per day and the Department was paying for less than this amount for the majority of veterans. According to Department documents, expenditures for marijuana for medical purposes are expected to continue to increase. ”
Commercial suppliers were charging up to $14 per gram, almost triple the federal government’s estimate, according to the report.
“.Veterans Affairs Canada will develop a policy on marijuana for medical purposes, putting the health, well-being, and safety of our veterans at the forefront. The Department will leverage medical expertise to identify the most efficient and effective approach. This may require regulatory consideration. This policy will be developed and implemented by May 2017.”