Doctor’s fees the real ‘high’ in medical pot
Greenleaf Medical Clinic CEO Fonda Betts (left) says medical pot's current status as a product without a Health Canada "drug identification number" means it's not covered by insurance. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
Medical marijuana users are scoffing at pricey fees doctors are charging to get a signature for legal pot — hundreds of dollars per patient that the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. says is “going through the roof.”
Fred Green, a 77-year-old man who visits marijuana dispensaries to treat his stage-four lung cancer, says paying $300 to $500 per pot prescription makes it financially difficult.
“If you go into a doctor, and say you have some moles in the back and you need to take them off, normally they charge you 50 bucks,” he said.
“I don’t want to pay $450 if I don’t have to just for a doctor’s signature … most people can’t afford that kind of money.”
Dr. Heidi Oetter, registrar of the CPSBC, said she’s now heard of additional fees — typically about $70 — charged by licensed marijuana producers for verifying the notes are genuine.
“The fee part of it seems to be going through the roof,” she told 24 hours.
“It’s like a patient asking a doctor to fill out a form, and the physician basically being allowed to charge for that form because it’s not an insured service.”
According to Health Canada, the “medical document” for legal pot is not an insured prescription and that means fees can be charged.
Fonda Betts, CEO of Greenleaf Medical Clinic in Abbotsford — no relation to a licensed producer of the same name on Vancouver Island — said her clinic charges $278.50 for a walk-in patient.
However, there are payment plans offered for those with low incomes — and sometimes the entire fee is waived. In the case of Green, Betts said she would allow him to come in for free.
“We give them a receipt, we let them know they can write it off as a medical expense on their taxes,” Betts said. “Sometimes it’s an issue where they only get a cheque on a certain day. They come in and pay us what they can afford until they have their payment in full.”
She said a gamut of services, including how to choose a suitable bud, or how to prepare dry herb marijuana into edible form, are also provided in addition to examining each patient’s eligibility for the marijuana program.
Each medical note is good for typically three to 12 months, Betts added.
Medical Cannabis Resource Centre founder Terry Roycroft said general physicians are only paid $38 to $58, typically, by the provincial government to see a patient.
But that assumes a patient is only stopping by for five minutes, he said — not the 40-plus minutes it could take to examine a single medical pot patient.
“Unfortunately, doctors aren’t free, rent isn’t free and staff isn’t free,” Roycroft said of the $300 he charges patients.
Roycroft added there are clinical trials underway — his company has partnered with a pharmacy to create pot-based arthritis medicine.
If successful, those trials could gain a “drug identification number” approval from Health Canada, he said, which means they could then be prescribed and covered by insurance.
Greenleaf Medical Clinic cost breakdown:
$50 – patient medical record fee
$150 – clinic fee for four medical office assistants
$100 – doctor’s fee
$20 – courier’s fee for mailing application
$150 – for each subsequent visit