International, governments are subsidising the cost of medicinal cannabis – as Australian patients are left to fend for themselves.
Despite Australia legalising medical cannabis in 2016, cannabis medications are not covered by our pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS). Without PBS coverage, the cost of taking cannabis medications can be too high for many patients to afford – with the average patient paying $436 each month.
Despite our Therapeutic Goods Administration arguing medical cannabis is too fringe for PBS coverage, patients all around the world are receiving their medications for free.
In Sicily, medical cannabis is extremely expensive. Despite having a population of 5 million people, there are only five approved medical cannabis producers. This leaves Italy importing the majority of their medical cannabis in an industry that is highly regulated.
Since January, however, Sicily’s regional government has been covering the cost of medical cannabis for patients. To be eligible, patients must be diagnosed with cerebral palsy, chronic pain or multiple sclerosis.
While this may seem radical, Sicily isn’t alone.
Back in July, Argentina followed in Italy’s footsteps, providing free medical cannabis to patients registered with the Argentinian Ministry of Health. Under this legislation, pharmacies will now be allowed to produce their own cannabis plants. Long term, this will decrease the cost of cannabis oil. When discussing the new initiative the director of YVY Life Sciences, Facundo Garreton, was quoted as saying:
Knowing that cannabis can alleviate many people’s suffering and not doing anything about it, that’s the true crime.
While medical cannabis isn’t free in Denmark or Germany, both countries subsidize the cost of medical cannabis heavily. In Denmark, patients are eligible for roughly $7860 AUD in medication subsidies each year. Over in Germany, medical cannabis is covered through private health insurance, with roughly $55 million in reimbursements made in 2019.
Despite our international neighbours taking a bold stance, Australia is yet to catch up. The majority of Australian private health insurance companies do not coverage cannabis medications. Currently, only four healthcare funds cover non-PBS pharmaceuticals, with no guarantee medical cannabis is included. That includes NIB, CBHS, Australian Unity and Medibank.
As of July 2020, Australia has over 50,000 medical cannabis patients. You can read more on that here.