In a study on medicinal cannabis, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) concluded that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in the cannabis plant, could have therapeutic benefits. The substance is effective in providing pain relief, alleviating muscle cramps in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and counteracting the side-effects of cancer and HIV treatment. But if you want to use CBD products to ease these symptoms, you will have to pay out of your own pocket, as the medication is not covered by health insurance companies.
People who depend on cannabis products to treat their symptoms require an exemption from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). The application must be made by the doctor managing the treatment, and the exemption is only granted if other medicines have previously failed to help. In other words, doctors may prescribe alternative medicine products, but only after all chemical-based medicines have been shown to be ineffective.
This actually conflicts with the principles of the Swiss Health Insurance Act (KVG), which states that medication covered by health insurance must be effective, appropriate and cost-efficient. Objectively speaking, doctors and patients must be able to decide between themselves on the use of a particular medicine – irrespective of whether other products have already been tried. Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at comparis.ch, feels that any other approach is bureaucratic, stifling innovation and preventing the competition that is vital to ensuring the availability of the most efficient, high-quality treatments.
Effective cannabis products should be covered by basic insurance
If a medicine is proven to be effective, appropriate and cost-efficient, then it should be included in basic insurance cover, as stated in the KVG. So if these criteria are applied to medical cannabis and found to be met, it follows that the product must be included in the list of insurance benefits.
And yet – basic insurance does not even cover cannabis products whose effectiveness has been proven and which are approved by the FOPH. Patients who nevertheless wish to go ahead with this method of treatment are forced to cover the cost themselves.
So until the FOPH clarifies this unsatisfactory situation with respect to CBD, patients are advised to proceed with caution when using this type of medication. However, it appears that it is only a matter of time before Switzerland starts taking positive steps in this direction.