Dear Stoner: Kaiser Permanente is sending out forms to people who are on pain medication that say the insurance company is going to be doing random urinalysis tests and not allowing even medicinal users of cannabis to continue using it. I was wondering about the legalities of this.
Timidly Toking in Thornton
Dear Timid Toker: This was the first we'd heard of drug testing by Kaiser — though, frankly, it doesn't surprise us much, coming from a health-insurance company that looks out for its bottom line more than it does for its patients. But there's more to it than that.
The agreement you signed is part of an effort to combat the illicit prescription-drug trade that is going on nationally, killing more people each year than auto accidents do. In Arapahoe County, the number of drug overdoses last year was three times the rate of motor-vehicle deaths, and 83 percent of those overdoses were on prescription drugs.
But here's the thing: If the doctor prescribing your opioids is the one who signed off on your medical card, then you can probably still puff away the pain while blissfully popping pills. We've got a copy of the Opioid Treatment Agreement for Chronic Pain form from Kaiser, and your story checks out, Timid Toker — but the agreement says you can't use medical marijuana unless it has been authorized by Kaiser. A spokeswoman with Kaiser's Colorado office says she can't comment on any specific patients, but she did say that these agreements are quite common. They aren't really about catching medical marijuana users so much as they are looking out for people who may be abusing opioids. In fact, Kaiser doesn't have a policy for or against medical cannabis, she says; that's up to you and your doctor.
Now, how to breach that conversation with your friendly Kaiser rep is a completely different story. (We suggest using the words "hypothetically" and "in general" and speaking in the third person about a made-up individual.) Also, don't expect Kaiser to pony up for your pot. Colorado's medical marijuana law states that "no governmental, private, or any other health insurance provider shall be required to be liable for any claim for reimbursement for the medical use of marijuana."
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Side note: We spoke with a health-/life-insurance expert who tells us that most insurance companies view cannabis use as being on par with cigarette use, even if you are an edibles person and don't actually smoke your weed. Basically, it's a strike against you as a healthy-living individual — and it isn't going to be something they look upon favorably in any circumstance. You're not likely to be denied coverage, but your premium could go up.