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Recent Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Decisions.
Fegley, as Executrix of Estate of Paul Sheetz v. WCAB(Firestone Tire & Rubber), ___ A.3d ___ (Pa.Cmwlth. 2023) and Edward Appel v. WCAB (GWC Warranty Corporation), ___ A.3d ___ (Pa.Cmwlth. 2023).
In Fegley the Commonwealth Court found that Section 2102 of Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (“MMA”) which provides that, “[n]othing in this act shall be construed to require an insurer or health plan, whether paid for by Commonwealth funds or private funds, to provide coverage for medical marijuana.” did not prohibit reimbursement of out-of-pocket payments by claimants for medical marijuana. It held that the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act mandates workers’ compensation carriers to reimburse claimants for out-of-pocket costs of medical treatments that have been found to be reasonable and necessary for work-related injuries and this included medical marijuana.
The court also addressed Section 2103 of the MMA which indicates that nothing in the MMA “shall require an employer to commit any act that would put the employer or any person acting on its behalf in violation of Federal law.” In addressing Section 841(a) of the Federal Drug Act which provides that it is “unlawful for any person knowingly of intentionally … to manufacture, distribute, or dispense … a controlled substance.” 21 U.S.C. § 841(a),the court held that reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses for medical marijuana by a workers’ compensation carrier was not a violation of federal law as reimbursement is not the manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of medical marijuana.
Following its Opinion in Fegley, the Commonwealth Court in Appel held that while the MMA did not require an employer/carrier to provide coverage for medical marijuana, coverage is “different and distinct from reimbursement,” and there is no statutory language which prohibited the reimbursement to a Claimant for costs incurred for the lawful use of medical marijuana.
Thus, the denial of reimbursement costs incurred for lawful use of medical marijuana which has been found to be reasonable and necessary treatment of a compensable work injury can be found to constitute a violation of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Provided that medical marijuana is reasonable and necessary for a work injury and a Claimant is lawfully using the drug under the MMA, failure to make payment could now subject an employer/carrier to penalties under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Both decisions, based the rationale applied differentiating between coverage and reimbursement given the potential significant impact upon the defense industry, will most likely be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It should be noted that there was a well written and reasoned dissent filed in Fegley which noted that there should not be reimbursement made by a carrier if there is no coverage for the item that is requested to be reimbursed. Further, it was posited that if the doctor is contributing to the dispensing of marijuana, which is still prohibited by Federal Law, the treatment may not be reasonable and necessary treatment.
It should be noted that there may be other arguments that could be advanced against the payment and/or reimbursement of medical marijuana. Such argument may require the initiation of litigation. Should a request be received for reimbursement for medical marijuana, it may be advisable to seek legal counsel as failure to take action or issue payment within thirty (30) days may now lead to the filing of a Petition for Penalties by the claimant’s bar as well as a request for the imposition of Lorino fees for the time expended by counsel in seeking reimbursement for such invoices.