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Australia sets ‘benchmark’ with first medical cannabis health fund

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A major Australian health fund has become one of the first to publicly announce its support for medical cannabis access and research.

Private health insurer Health Insurance Fund of Australia (HIF) announced its partnership with Australian medicinal cannabis manufacturer Little Green Pharma (LGP) at the end of last year.

It marks the first time a major Australian health fund has publicly declared its support for access to medicinal cannabis treatments and the potential benefits it can have on the lives of patients living with numerous debilitating health conditions. 

HIF will pay rebates for medicinal cannabis products, from all manufacturers, across all but one of its policies, with eligible members receiving up to $105 per prescription.

Paul Long, COO LGP with Justin James, CEO of HIF

Fleta Soloman, managing director of LGP told Cannabis Health that the move set the ‘benchmark’ for other insurers.

“It’s amazing that one of the major players has recognised the need to lower the barriers to  patient access and affordability,” she said.

“I believe that this sets the benchmark really high, because the other major health insurance funds in Australia will follow suit and support this.”

The number of legal medical cannabis patients in Australia has risen exponentially over recent years, with more than 85,000 prescriptions that have now been approved. 

 

But prescriptions are not covered by the country’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) meaning patients have to fund the medicine themselves – which can cost up to $400 for a 50ml bottle. 

“Due to regulatory requirements and manufacturing costs there is always going to be a price – we’d love it to be on the PBS and this is something we are all working towards – but it’s a long process and takes years to get there,” continued Solomon.

“This is why what HIF has done is incredible, because $105 off a bottle it’s quite a significant reduction in costs for patients.”

The move also reflects increased interest and scientific evidence supporting cannabis as a treatment for many Australian patients.

HIF and LGP will be partnering to support future research to advance the understanding of the role medical cannabis can play in improving quality of life for patients, with eligible HIF members entitled to priority participation in these studies.

Justin James, CEO of HIF, said supporting medicinal cannabis was well aligned with its goals of providing new, alternative treatment choices to its members. 

“We are exceptionally pleased to be the first Australian health fund to publicly declare our support for medicinal cannabis treatments and provide our members with rebates on these products,” he commented.

“As a member-based health fund, our community is the motivation for everything we do, so assisting members through treatment options that can dramatically improve quality of life across different life stages is a key focus.

“HIF proudly provides choice to members – whether of specialist, hospital, clinic or medication – so our members can have the flexibility to control their own medical outcomes. Supporting members with medical cannabis as a treatment option is another choice we are excited to provide to members.” 

LGP was the first company in Australia to launch with locally grown and affordable medicinal cannabis products.

Solomon believes the partnership is a significant step towards cannabis being taken seriously as an effective medicine across the world.

“Australia is setting a standard for the rest of the world in terms of medicinal cannabis,” she added.

We’d like to show the NHS in the UK and other insurers across the world that they really ought to play a part in this because it’s the future.

“Medical cannabis is mainstream now, these are big organisations and they are starting to recognise that it has a role to play in the medical field, it’s here to stay.”

Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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