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MEDICINE

Medical marijuana in ‘high’ demand with over 13,000 applications: report

More and more people in Germany are applying for prescription cannabis and receiving reimbursements from their health insurance company, according to a media report published on Wednesday.

Medical marijuana in ‘high’ demand with over 13,000 applications: report
A patient in Duderstadt, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Ten months after medical marijuana was legalized in Germany, a surprising total of over 13,000 patients have applied for it, reports Rheinische Post (RP).

The newspaper came to these findings after conducting a survey with three health insurance companies: Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse (AOK), Barmer and Techniker Krankenkasse (TK).

According to RP’s survey, most applications were received by AOK (7,600). 64 percent of these were approved. By the end of 2017, approximately 3,200 applications had been submitted to Barmer, of which just under 62 percent had been accepted. And by the end of November, TK had received some 2,200 applications for reimbursement. Here too, the approval rate was rather high at 64 percent.

Though two-thirds of the cases are usually approved, this does not necessarily mean that the rest have been rejected, an AOK spokesperson said, adding that applications aren’t always complete and patients have the opportunity to resubmit them.

READ ALSO: How patients in Germany are still struggling to get cannabis

Some patients who apply for the drug have no illnesses which are usually treated by marijuana. “Occasionally, these are cases of herniated discs which have so far only been treated with heat therapy,” said the spokesperson. Patients with severe chronic pain on the other hand are permitted medical cannabis use.

Prior to legalization in March, only about 1,000 people in Germany had permission to use the drug for special medical purposes. The draft bill for its approval had estimated that 700 patients per year would require prescription.

When the law was drafted, how many patients would make use of it was not known. It is not possible to estimate “to what extent doctors and patients will make use of a prescription option for cannabis blossoms and cannabis extracts,” the draft bill in April 2016 stated.

For Marlene Mortler, the federal government’s drug commissioner, high demand for the drug is a positive thing. “The increasing number of authorizations shows how important it was to get this law under way last year,” she said.

But cannabis is not a universal remedy, Mortler added.

SEE ALSO: Six things to know about weed in Germany

For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

Why more than 20 million people in Germany face higher health insurance costs

Several German health insurance companies have raised their rates this year, pushing up the costs for customers.

Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year.
Many people are facing higher health insurance contributions this year. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jan Woitas

According to a study by the comparison portal Check24, around 21 million people with statutory health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung or GKV) have had to pay higher contributions since the beginning of the year after several organisations raised their additional contributions. 

A total of 19 of the 97 statutory health insurance providers in Germany have increased their additional contributions, the comparison portal found.

It means more than a quarter of the 73 million people with statutory health insurance in Germany have to pay higher additional contributions. 

According to Check24, the higher additional contributions can cost an insured person in the most expensive case an extra €261 per year.

Among those to have raised their additional contributions include AOK Baden-Württemberg and AOK Bayern, which have both increased the additional contributions from 1.10 percent to 1.30 percent. Check24 has published the full list of additional contributions here.

Customers affected receive a letter in the post letting them know when their contributions are increasing. Health insurance providers justify raising their rates by pointing out rising costs in the health and care system. The pandemic has also put significant strain on providers. 

READ ALSO: How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

A total of 67 health insurance providers are keeping their individual additional contribution the same. And as many as 11 health insurance funds lowered their contributions – although most of these already had comparatively high rates.

In 2021, Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), the largest statutory health insurance fund in Germany with around 8.2 million members, raised its additional contribution significantly.

The contribution went up to 1.2 percent from 0.7 percent. Average earners saw additional monthly costs of about €10 extra, while self-employed people had to pay up to €288 more per year. 

TK has not raised its rates this year. 

Can you switch health insurance?

If your health insurance company increases the additional contribution, those insured have a special right of termination until January 31st, 2022.

They can apply for the change up until this date, and they will then become a member of the new health insurance provider from April 1st after the statutory two month change-over period has expired.

Insured people also have the right to change their statutory health insurance fund every 12 months.

The cost of public health insurance in Germany is a fixed salary percentage of 14.6 percent, while the reduced contribution rate for employees without entitlement to sick pay is 14.0 per cent.

Beyond that, however, health insurance providers set an additional contribution.

The contribution assessment ceiling for statutory health insurance (GKV) – up to which contributions are levied – remains unchanged at €58,050 per year in 2022, as in the previous year.

Check24 said that switching providers can save employees up to €624 per year depending on their income.

Self-employed people pay both the employee and employer contribution and can therefore save up to €1,248 euros per year by switching, the analysis found. 

However in a representative YouGov survey only 11 percent of respondents in Germany said they had recently changed their insurance provider or would do so in the foreseeable future.

Most of the benefits provided by statutory health insurance organisations are identical.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The three new services covered by German health insurance

However, there are some differences in the voluntary benefits, including dental health (professional dental cleaning and discounted dentures), vaccinations (flu vaccinations for under 60s and travel vaccinations), various cancer screening examinations and osteopathic treatments.

“In addition to the financial relief, insured people can also secure higher subsidies for professional dental cleaning or other additional benefits by switching,” said Dr Daniel Güssow, Managing Director of statutory health insurers at Check24.

Vocabulary 

Additional contributions (die) Zusatzbeiträge

Right of termination – (das) Kündigungsrecht 

Benefits (die) Leistungen

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