AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Justices of the state’s highest court took up the issue of medical marijuana and whether or not worker’s compensation insurance should cover the cost of it.
An administrative law judge and the state workers comp board ruled it should be covered. The paper company and its insurer objected and took the matter to the Maine Supreme Court.
The case involves Gaeton Bourgoin who suffered a back injury while working at the Twin River paper mill in Madawaska in 1989.
“What a long strange trip it’s been”, said Bourgoin's attorney Norman Trask in describing his client’s 25-year journey to find something to help ease his pain.
He described to the state’s highest justices a journey filled with opioids that took Gaeton Bourgoin from Maine to New Hampshire to Florida to Minnesota.
“He was frankly desperate at that point, very sick, in pain, suicidal at times and once he started using marijuana it alleviated many of those symptoms”, Trask said.
His employer, the Twin River Paper Company and its insurer, began paying for it after a judge and the workers comp board required it to. But the attorney for the company argued it should not have to pay for a substance deemed illegal under federal law. Something not lost on the justices.
“What do we do with the federal law that makes this a crime?”, asked Chief Justice Leigh Saufley.
While medical practitioners in Maine can legally recommend marijuana for pain relief, there has been no determination under Maine or federal law that it has a medical use. The attorney for the mill argued the insurer should not cover it because doctors don’t actually prescribe marijuana, instead leaving it up to the patients to determine its potency and how much to take.
“Because there are no controls over it, nobody knows what Mr. Bourgoin is getting each time he goes to the dispensary”, said Twin Rivers attorney Anne-Marie Storey.
The irony of this case is that if Bourgoin continued taking opioids, the insurer would be on the hook for a lot more money. More than $1500 a month compared to about $350 for medical marijuana.
“It is ironic. Typically you see insurance companies arguing whatever they can to reduce costs”, said Trask.
Private insurance companies, along with state and federal insurance plans, are not required to cover medical marijuana. This case pertains only to workers compensation insurance, which is a completely different system.
The supreme court justices typically take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to reach their decision.