Clalit’s ‘refusal’ to allow doctors to prescribe medical cannabis spurs protest

Israel's three other health funds reportedly agree that doctors’ prescribing medical marijuana is “problematic,” but they have not yet made statements about it.

A marijuana leaf (photo credit: REUTERS)
A marijuana leaf
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The largest health fund, Clalit Health Services, has instructed its doctors not to prescribe medical cannabis to patients when its use becomes fully regulated and pharmacies will be able to fill their prescriptions.
The other three health funds reportedly agree that doctors’ prescribing medical marijuana is “problematic,” but they have not yet made statements about it.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, chairman of the Knesset Anti-Drug Committee, remonstrated with Clalit on Monday, saying that “contrary to assurances we have received in recent weeks from health fund representatives, we learned today that Clalit has set a clear policy against treating patients with medical cannabis. This is not a one-time event but it’s a serious and unacceptable policy with a very dangerous precedent.”
She also charged that in a previous committee session, Clalit “lied” by saying it did not issue such directions to its doctors.
“We regard this as very serious and will issue a letter to the health fund and to the Health Ministry. Clalit is violating its obligations to its members by doing so.”
The ministry said it is aware of the subject and “studying it.” Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was the one who initiated liberalization of access to medical cannabis for patients who need it. In six months, instead of allowing only a small number of ministry doctors to prescribe the drug, any physician will be able to do so according to the regulations. Soon, pharmacies will fill subscriptions and give the cannabis to patients instead of them having to go to specific growers.
Dr. Iris Leisdorf, head of the ministry’s department that supervises the four health funds, said the ministry “regards seriously the decision by Clalit. It does not represent our policy. That is the reason why we issued an instruction to provide the treatment immediately. We have no experience of a health fund violating our instructions so clearly.”
More than 26,000 patients already have permits to receive cannabis for pain relief and other medical uses.
Clalit official Dr. Leora Schechter said it was leaving the decision to whom to prescribe medical cannabis “in its doctors hands.” She added that the ministry requirement that all forms have to be sent by fax was responsible for delays, causing requests to “fall between the cracks. This causes some patients to give up altogether.”
Schechter added that the lack of palliative medicine specialists in pain clinics around the country was also to blame for the delays in a variety of matters, not just medical cannabis.
Clalit officials apparently regard medical cannabis as a “drug” rather than as a “medication” and that its physicians protest they don’t know anything about the many types of cannabis, what the drug actually does and for what conditions it is needed.
Zandberg complained about the difficulty in filling out forms for receiving the drug.
“They are very complicated and theoretically can be filled out on a computer but in fact, one has to send then to the ministry on a fax machine,” she said. “It is absurd... The patients are not violent people; they are suffering from pain and being treated shamefully.”