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Coalition starts petition vs. Alberta ban on pharmacy rewards
April 24th, 2014
EDMONTON, Alberta – A coalition including Canadian food and drug retailer Sobeys Inc. has launched a petition urging the Alberta government to quash a ban by the Alberta College of Pharmacists (ACP) that prohibits consumers in the province from earning loyalty points for pharmacy purchases.
The Coalition for Consumer Choice said Wednesday that it has posted its "I Earned It" petition online at IEarnedItPetition.ca. The coalition noted that a poll of 1,000 Albertans conducted for Canada Safeway, now part of Sobeys, found that almost 75% of respondents think it's unfair to ban loyalty rewards.
"Removing loyalty rewards for pharmacy purchases would be unfair to consumers," Sandra Aylward, vice president of professional and regulatory affairs at Sobeys, said in a statement. "Loyalty programs like Air Miles and Club Sobeys build stronger bonds between patients and their pharmacies, encourage better patient adherence to prescription medication and can result in other positive health behaviors."
Sobeys has about 450 pharmacy locations, including nearly 200 Safeway supermarket pharmacies and 78 Lawtons Drugs stores. Overall, the company operates more than 1,500 stores in all 10 provinces under such banners as Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, and Lawtons.
The coalition includes Sobeys and Safeway pharmacies, the Chronic Pain Association of Canada and the Air Miles Reward Program, and it's supported by the Consumers' Association of Canada and thousands of Alberta citizens.
The ban is slated to go into effect on June 10.
"Many of our members rely on reward programs to help make purchases more affordable," stated Roxanne Stewart, vice president of the Chronic Pain Association of Canada. "If the government doesn't stop this ban, then what purchases will be banned next? Albertans need to tell the politicians to protect consumer access to reward programs."
Earlier this month, Sobeys announced that it aims to file a legal challenge on behalf of its Safeway and Sobeys pharmacies to halt the ACP's ban.
Under amendments to the ACP's code of ethics and standards of practice and operation for pharmacists and pharmacies, "A regulated member must not offer or provide or be party to the offering or provision of an inducement to a patient where the inducement is offered or provided on the condition that the patient obtains a drug product or a professional service
from the regulated member or licensed pharmacy."
The amendments, approved by the ACP council on April 10, defined "inducement" as a reward, gift (including cash), prize, coupon, points or other elements in incentive or loyalty programs that can be redeemed for rewards, gifts, cash, prizes, or other goods and services.
"Removing loyalty points for prescription purchases would be unfair to consumers and anticompetitive," commented Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada which is supporting the Coalition's call to stop the ban. "Government needs to ensure issues of consumer choice are left to consumers and the marketplace to decide."
The ACP council initially set May 1 as the date for the ban to go into effect but then moved it back after contacting pharmacy groups to determine their ability to comply with the amendments by that time date.
"The council's goal is that all pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, licensees and owners can and will comply with the amendments. Based on the feedback we received, the amended date is reasonable and will allow for full compliance by all pharmacies," the ACP said on its website.
The ACP noted that the ban reflects its aim to set high ethical standards for Alberta pharmacists.
"The council and the college understand that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are health care professionals, not simply vendors of drugs. As the regulatory body, it's our job to make sure work environments support our registrants and the care they provide to patients. It is also our job to set and maintain high ethical and practice standards and protect the integrity of pharmacy," the ACP said on its website. "We must make sure pharmacists and pharmacy technicians can work in an environment where the critical decisions they must make can be made objectively, without any real or perceived impediment. The adoption of these amendments is just one more step we're taking to support such a professional environment."