Massachusetts Court Discusses Workers’ Compensation Reimbursement Under the Medical Marijuana Act

Employees that are hurt at work are generally entitled to medical benefits that cover the cost of any necessary treatment. In some cases, though, it may be disputed what is considered a required treatment or what a workers’ compensation insurer is obligated to cover. For example, in a recent opinion, a Massachusetts court addressed the issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurer could be compelled to reimburse an employee for the cost of medical marijuana, ultimately determining it could not. If you were hurt on the job, it is advisable to talk to a trusted Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your rights.

Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff suffered two work-related injuries, one in 2010 and one in 2012. He filed workers’ compensation claims for each injury. When traditional treatment methods failed, he began using medical marijuana to treat the pain caused by his harm. He then sought reimbursement of his medical marijuana expenses from his employer’s worker’s compensation insurer. The plaintiff’s claim was denied by an administrative judge. The plaintiff appealed, and on appeal, the denial was affirmed, as the reviewing board ultimately determined that marijuana’s classification as an illicit substance under federal law preempted any state authority to order a workers’ compensation insurer to pay for the plaintiff’s expenses. The plaintiff again appealed, this time to the Massachusetts state court.

Reimbursement Under the Medical Marijuana Act

On appeal, the state court affirmed the prior rulings but on different grounds. The court noted that the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act (the Act) was drafted to take into account that marijuana is illegal under federal law and deemed to have no medicinal uses under federal law. Thus, the Act contains a provision stating that nothing in the Act compels any government agency or authority or any health insurance provider to reimburse an individual for the cost of using medical marijuana.

The court explained that this provision provides that insurers are not required to reimburse people for medical marijuana expenses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The court ultimately concluded that the plain language of this provision of the Act, as well as the federal concerns it sought to address, were controlling.

Further, the court found that the provision was not overridden by the general language in the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act, that required workers’ compensation insurers to reimburse eligible employees for reasonable medical expenses. The court concluded by stating that any other interpretation of the Act would be contrary to the intention of those that drafted and voted on it. Thus, the court affirmed the denial of the plaintiff’s claim.

Speak to a Skillful Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People who suffer injuries at work often have significant medical expenses, but fortunately, many of those expenses are covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If you sustained harm in the workplace, you might be owed medical benefits and should speak to an attorney. The skillful Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at helping injured employees protect their rights, and they will work tirelessly to help you pursue available benefits. You can contact us at 508-822-6600 or through the form online to schedule a conference.