Families granted access to medicinal cannabis under the State’s compassionate access programme fear crippling medical costs amid uncertainty over the HSE’s reimbursement policy.
Campaigning mum, Noreen O’Neill, called on the HSE last night to clarify the position after a family on the programme was told their medical cannabis bills won’t be covered, leaving them facing a monthly medical bill of €1,200.
She said it follows a recent meeting between consultant representatives and the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which has cleared three medical cannabis products for use here.
“These families are in a nightmare ‘mortgage or medicine’ scenario. What do they do — pay the mortgage or pay the medical bill?” Ms O’Neill said.
“I want the HSE to tell these families why their prescriptions under the access programme are set to cost them €1,200 per month despite the Health Minister stating last June that the medication would be made available through the usual channels of the long-term illness scheme, the drugs payment scheme and medical card.
There are families with a prescription who cannot afford to fill them now. There is nothing compassionate about a cannabis access programme that will financially cripple an already vulnerable family.
Health Minister Simon Harris introduced the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme last June.
Three products — CannEpil, made by a Slovenian firm, and Aurora high CBD oil drops and Tilray made by Canadian firms — meet HPRA criteria for use here under the scheme.
They are subject to international export licensing requirements and can be prescribed by a medical consultant for a patient under their care for certain conditions, including spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and severe treatment-resistant epilepsy.
Department of Health guidelines say the HSE will meet the cost of the products under the long-term illness scheme, the medical card scheme and the drug payment scheme on a named patient basis and subject to conditions, and that being on the programme does not mean automatic approval for reimbursement.
But Ms O’Neill says something seems to have changed.
The HPRA referred the Irish Examiner to the Department of Health's access programme guidelines.
The Department said implementation of policy is a matter for the HSE. The HSE did not answer questions submitted last Tuesday.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the families deserve clarity now:
“Families in an already difficult situation are now facing huge uncertainty and the fact that nobody seems to be able to give them a straight answer only adds to their concerns.
"Families granted access to medicinal cannabis under the compassionate access program cannot be expected to pay out €1,200 a month — where is the compassion in that?”