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Loyalty point ban has B.C. grocers seeing red

Safeway, Thrifty fight ban on use of loyalty programs for prescriptions

Two of the biggest British Columbia grocery chains are taking the College of Pharmacists of B.C. to court to fight a bylaw banning the use of inducements and loyalty programs for prescription products and services.

The ban took effect Dec. 2.

Safeway Canada and Thrifty Foods, which operate under the Sobeys umbrella, have filed a petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the hopes of overturning this new bylaw that will prohibit their in-store pharmacies from offering loyalty points, discounts, refunds, coupons, gifts, rewards, and rebates on prescription drugs, devices, and other patient care services. (Accepting a credit card that is linked to an incentive is exempt from the ban.)

Similar bylaws have already been established in Ontario, Newfoundland, and Quebec.

From a healthcare perspective, inducements for pharmacy services and prescriptions allegedly pose significant risk to patient safety, particularly for seniors and low-income individuals who might fill their prescriptions a few days late or skip doses to wait for special discounts or “bonus point” days.

Inducements may also encourage “pharmacy hopping” so patients can take advantage of prescription transfer promotions.

Concerns surrounding the ethics of linking medication to rewards and discounting the services of a healthcare practitioner have also been voiced.

These arguments fall short, according to the grocers fighting the ban.

In their petition to the Supreme Court, filed on December 5, they contend that the bylaw unfairly favours smaller, independent pharmacies that have the capacity to offer incentives exempt from the new ruling, such as free parking or free delivery services, while acting against the best interest of consumers who deserve the option of getting the best value for their dollars.

They further claim that incentive programs actually encourage a pharmacist-patient relationship–and in turn better care–and point to no substantiated evidence of unsafe patient practices as a result of customer rewards.

Mykle Ludvigsen, director of public accountability and engagement at the College of Pharmacists of B.C. declined to comment to Canadian Grocer on the petition for the injunction except to say that the College would be defending its position in court.

Grocers also contacted by Canadian Grocer also declined to comment.

Until the petition is heard, both grocers have put a stop on loyalty points for prescription medications.

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