When Germany legalized medical marijuana just over a year ago, government officials may not have realized just how over their heads they truly were. The demand for the plant, for medicinal purposes, has been much higher than anticipated, and as a result, the newly christened industry is still figuring out how to meet the needs of its thousands of patients. Typically, such a hot commodity would bode well for the future of a new medical marijuana program, but as complications arise from high demand for medical cannabis in Germany, it appears that these early humps have actually caused more problems than it has solved.
Insurance Companies Are Flummoxed
Germany’s medical marijuana program, which was legalized back in March of 2017, vastly underestimated the demand for the plant. Insurance companies have scrambled to cover the costs of prescriptions as the number of approved patients continue to rise.
According to a report by the Germany-based insurance company, Techniker-Krankenkasse, in conjunction with the University of Bremen, and translated by Business Insider, the number of eligible patients who have requested to be reimbursed for their medical marijuana, has skyrocketed from 1,100 to around 16,000 as of February 2018.
In the past, insurers would only occasionally cover the costs of medical marijuana, but as a result of Germany’s new law, they are always required to reimburse patients for the full price.
To make matters worse, Germany’s varying medical marijuana treatments have proven to be much more costly than other traditional treatments. Herbal remedies can cost patients between $350 and $2,600, which can be up to four times more expensive than alternative medications.
Still, this hasn’t necessarily deterred insurance companies from approving its applications. Techniker-Krankenkasse approved around two-thirds of its medical marijuana applications last year, which amounted to around $2.7 million.
A Supply Shortage
In addition to strapping insurance companies, the high demand for medicinal marijuana has caused a shortage in product.
In the early stages of the program, Germany only approved four companies to import medicinal cannabis and supply its patients. Cannamedical Pharma, one of the four companies, has been responsible for almost all of the medicinal cannabis supplied in Germany. Unsurprisingly, Cannamedical has had trouble meeting Germany’s increasing demands.
“The supply shortage was a serious issue not only for us but also for patients depending on this medicine,” said Cannamedical sales manager, Niklas Kouparanis. “At the moment, we have only one cannabis producer in all of Europe, located in the Netherlands. This producer has to meet the entire European demand for medicinal cannabis, which is almost impossible.”
While Germany continues to find ways to fix their MMJ program, it will, in the meantime, continue a vetting process to weed out patients seeking marijuana prescriptions without the proper qualifying conditions.
“Before the health insurance company pays for it, any added benefit the drug may have must be justified,” said Techniker-Krankenkasse manager Jens Baas.
While the new program has struggled with meeting the demands of its patients, some of the early roadblocks in year one of the endeavor should be expected. Take California’s brand-new recreational marijuana industry, for example, who has also had its fair share of issues with maintaining its supply. Obviously, some of Germany’s problems are troubling, but most of their issues should be straightened out when the medical marijuana program is past its infancy. Hopefully, that’s sooner, rather than later.