Does Health Insurance Cover CBD Oil?
CBD is a blurry line that insurance companies are reluctant to cross. Image Credit: By alexskopje on Shutterstock
Though most people know that no health insurance plan will cover medical marijuana, many still have questions on whether such plans might cover CBD oil and CBD products. They don’t induce a high, after all, and since the federal government legalized hemp-derived CBD in the 2018 Farm Bill, it seems counter-intuitive to most that health insurance companies would be averse to a product that is both legal and wildly popular.
Yet as with many cannabis-related matters, old attitudes are easy to shift but difficult to eradicate completely, and the association of CBD with the 20th century’s most demonized plant has created a blurry line that insurance companies are reluctant to cross. It also doesn’t help that marijuana-derived CBD, which many say is more effective than the hemp-derived variety, is still a Schedule I controlled substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
So, is CBD oil (of any kind) covered by insurance companies (of any type) in the United States? Across the board, the answer is no, another ramification of the uneven progress of American cannabis reform.
Unfortunately, CBD is also quite expensive, so people will likely continue to ask this question until the answer becomes yes.
Why Health Insurance Doesn’t Cover CBD Oil
One of the main challenges that prevents CBD from being covered under insurance policies is the hostility of powerful government agencies to any cannabis-related product — a sentiment that insurance companies have noticed and respected.
In its 2001 “Notice of denial of petition to reschedule marijuana,” the DEA emphasized that its main objection to the rescheduling of cannabis and its derivatives was not because of their potential for abuse, but rather for their lack of accepted use in medical treatment:
“If it is undisputed that such drug has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and it is further undisputed that the drug has at least some potential for abuse sufficient to warrant control under the Controlled Substances Act, the drug must remain in Schedule I.”
This has remained a popular view among many federal authorities. In 2018, when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was asked about medical marijuana as a pain relief alternative to opioids, he responded by saying there is “no such thing as medical marijuana.”
Even agencies with a more open stance on CBD, like the FDA, are helping to block insurance companies from covering it — with one notable exception, an anti-seizure medication called Epidiolex. Costing around $32,500 out of pocket for a year’s treatment, it was approved by the FDA in 2018, subsequently downgraded by the DEA to a Schedule 5 substance (the same non-restrictive category as prescription cough syrup), and is now covered without exception by insurers. However, it’s also blocking other CBD-derived medications from getting the same treatment, since its approval by the FDA means that any drug containing CBD would have to go through the same arduous, expensive process. So far, no other medication has been up for the challenge.
And without FDA approval, insurance companies won’t approve of CBD, either. When the public relations manager of Humana, one of the country’s five largest insurers, told VICE why the company did not insure medical marijuana, he could just as easily have been talking about CBD. “As of right now, there is no FDA-approved marijuana product, and we therefore do not currently offer a prescription drug benefit for medical marijuana,” he said. “If there were to be an FDA-approved medical marijuana product in the future, it may be covered depending upon the terms of the individual member’s drug coverage.”
What Would Have to Change for Insurers to Cover CBD Oil?
Barring an unexpected act of Congress, there are two potential ways in which CBD oil (or at least certain types of it) could be covered under health insurance plans, and neither of them are likely to be especially fast.
The first, and most obvious, is standard FDA regulation. On May 31, the FDA held a public hearing on issues around CBD’s regulation, such as the medical conditions it has shown effectiveness in treating and its side effects. A working group that was assigned to analyze the problem recently published a statement paper called “FDA is Committed to Sound, Science-based Policy on CBD,” which clearly spells out the agency’s stance
“If a product is being marketed as a drug — meaning, for example, that it’s intended to have a therapeutic effect such as treating a disease — then it’s regulated as a drug, and it generally cannot be sold without FDA approval.”
FDA approval is a long and rigorous process, meaning it could take years for CBD-based drugs to reach the market even if the FDA changes its stance. In the meantime, standard CBD oil — the kind found in pharmacies, supermarkets, and medical cannabis dispensaries around the country — would still not be covered.
However, elsewhere in the paper, CBD users are given the possibility of an alternative: “The Agency is committed to science-based decision making when it comes to CBD, while also taking steps to consider if there are appropriate regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of CBD, outside of the drug setting.”
For the time being, the best (and only) bet for subsidized CBD oil may come from the companies that produce it, some of which will give Medicaid card holders a 20 percent discount out of their own pocket.
No — there's not a single insurance company in America that covers CBD oil. Here's why.
Does Health Insurance Cover CBD (Cannabidiol)
It’s a question that’s coming up more and more.
With good reason.
The buzz on CBD (short for cannabidiol) is everywhere.
It’s showing impressive results in research across a wide range of issues:
- Fights cancer
- Helps with auto immune
Again, the list keeps growing.
My whole family uses CBD for issues ranging from acne to sleep issues from perimenopause!
How does health insurance look at it?
Many people are using CBD for chronic, on-going issues (such as pain) so we want to afford it.
The above site has the major CBD brands ranked by value or price but what about health insurance.
Let’s take a look at the question which is evolving.
- What is CBD?
- Is CBD a supplement?
- Is CBD legal?
- How does health insurance treat CBD?
- Can I pay for CBD from my HSA plan?
Lots of great questions.
Again, for a comparison of CBD options, you can jump right here:
Otherwise, let’s get into it.
What is CBD
CBD is short for cannabidiol.
It’s a member of the cannabinoids which are found in the cannabis plant.
It’s cousin, THC, gets all the press for its psychoactive effects and illegality (Federally and in many States).
CBD is quite different!
Here’s a quick list of main differences:
- CBD is not psychoactive
- CBD has a strong safety profile
- CBD is being studied for many health benefits
- CBD is legal in all 50 states
It came to people’s attention via a girl, Charlotte Figi who had horrific seizures (multiple per day).
CBD basically stopped the seizures where no medications were working.
Researchers then started to research CBD and found it influenced a system that we have naturally throughout our bodies.
The endocannabinoid system!
It appears to have an important role in balancing other key systems:
- Nervous system (neurotransmitters, mood, etc)
- Endocrine system (hormones, appetite, sleep, etc)
- Immune system (inflammatory response, autoimmune issues, etc)
Okay. so those ARE important.
CBD’s classification by the US government and FDA is an important hint at how health insurance will treat it.
What is it (in the eyes of the government)?
Is CBD a supplement
The FDA actually has two different categories for CBD.
It recently approved the first CBD drug to treat seizures related to 2 rare diseases. This drug is called Sativex. It’s a purified version of CBD.
Otherwise, CBD sold on the market is treated as a food supplement.
In this way, the FDA does not have much regulation of it.
For that reason, it’s important to only use trusted brands with the following:
- 3rd party testing
- Specified CBD amounts in the product
- Solvent, pesticide, heavy metal, and bacteria/mold free
What about its legality?
Is CBD legal?
CBD is legal in all 50 states and the main brands will ship to all 50 states.
Its federal status is still catching up with the State’s designation of legal.
Leave it to the Feds to take forever on something that so many people are already purchasing legally at the State level.
Since the FDA has already designated it as a food supplement, it should be a matter of time for the Fed’s to catch up.
They are not showing any priority in going after CBD.
Again, there are very large companies that are legally shipping the product to all 50 States.
Canada and the EU are well ahead of us on this point.
How does health insurance treat CBD
Finally, the question you started with.
How does health insurance treat it.
If you are prescribed Sativex or other CBD-based medications that require prescription through your doctor, that will likely be covered.
If you are using CBD as a food supplement, it will likely not be covered.
Health insurance plans do not cover food supplements no matter how helpful.
Maybe they’ll start when they realize the cost savings for the entire health care system.
What about HSA’s?
Can I pay for CBD from my HSA plan
In general, HSA’s will not pay for food supplements.
The outlier may be if a doctor prescribes the supplement to address a health condition (such as B12 deficiency).
To be safe, HSA’s reimburse for substances prescribed by a doctor.
Here’s the actual verbiage from the IRS:
You can’t include in medical expenses the cost of nutritional supplements, vitamins, herbal supplements, ‘natural medicines,’ etc. unless they are recommended by a medical practitioner as treatment for a specific medical condition diagnosed by a physician. Otherwise, these items are taken to maintain your ordinary good health and aren’t for medical care.ќ
Until the medical field catches up with the CBD research, HSA reimbursement of CBD does not appear to be available.
In light of that, we need to find the most affordable source of safety screened, high purity CBD.
Do we expect health insurance to cover CBD in the future
Our guess is yes.
And not because they’re great guys who want to pay more.
If you can use CBD to adequately address psoriasis at $100/month versus one of the many autoimmune medications at $5000/month, which one do you think the health insurance carriers will go with?
The problem is that they’re beholden to the FDA and medical practice which moves very slow.
Most people don’t even know what CBD is!
Even more incorrectly associate it with marijuana and THC.
It’s going to require time for the establishment to catch up with the millions of people finding relief from CBD.
We’ll update as we get new information!
With the explosion in CBD’s popularity, where are insurance plans on the matter?