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Colorado doctors can now recommend medical marijuana as opioid alternative

by Mary McNitt | Jun 13, 2019

The Colorado legislature has passed a law permitting physicians to recommend marijuana in lieu of opioids to treat certain disabling medical conditions. Senate Bill 13, gives providers greater leeway in discussing pain treatment options with their patients and is scheduled to take effect August 2, 2019.

New law expands current conditions eligible for medical marijuana
The new statute adds to current Colorado law permitting patients with qualifying, disabling medical conditions to receive a registry identification card for legal state access to medical marijuana. Part of the process is recommendation/certification from a physician. Existing conditions include, among others, severe pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This bill adds “a condition for which a physician could prescribe an opioid” to that overall list by defining it as a disabling medical condition.

Impact on workers’ comp
While this legislation may lead to physicians recommending medical marijuana as a treatment alternative to opioids in many settings ― including workers’ compensation ― other provisions in Colorado are important to call out.

Currently, the Colorado Constitution provides 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.” And, the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation medical treatment guideline for chronic pain disorder states that insurers are not required to pay for marijuana. In addition, it advises that marijuana use is illegal under federal law and cannot be recommended for use.

Future developments related to workers’ comp and auto no-fault
The Optum Workers’ Comp and Auto No-fault Government Affairs team is tracking policy developments at both the federal and state levels related to medical marijuana. Its legal use is increasing among states throughout the country, despite being illegal at the federal level. With this trend, we expect to continue to see more interplay with treatment for injuries in both the workers’ compensation and auto no-fault settings. Should you have questions on this or any other public policy developments, please contact our Government Affairs team atAskGovtAffairs@optum.com.


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