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Sobeys loses appeal of ban on pharmacy rewards

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Supreme Court of Canada upholds prohibition of Rx incentives in B.C.

Sobeys store with pharmacy

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected an appeal by Sobeys Inc. to permit British Columbia consumers to collect rewards points on pharmacy purchases.

The decision reversed a judgment by the Supreme Court of British Columbia two years ago that struck down bylaws of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia that had prohibited pharmacy patients in the province from earning loyalty rewards, including Safeway’s Air Miles and Club Thrifty Foods Points on nongovernment-funded pharmacy prescriptions. The bylaws were put into effect in December 2013.

The Canada Supreme Court’s dismissal means that pharmacies can’t offer incentives — including redeemable points, cash, gifts or other loyalty program benefits — for prescription purchases or pharmacy services, the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia noted.

“The college considers the provision of incentives like redeemable points to be unethical, unsafe and unprofessional,” Bob Nakagawa, registrar of the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, said in a statement. “Pharmacists are medication experts, and sometimes the right thing for them to do is not dispense a drug. A patient’s motivation to collect redeemable points may inappropriately encourage drug use and can put their health at risk.”

Sobeys couldn’t be reached for comment.

After College of Pharmacists of British Columbia enacted the bylaws on Dec., 2, 2013, Sobeys sought a court injunction to halt them. The injunction was denied on Jan. 7, 2014, and the British Columbia Supreme Court held a hearing on the matter on May 13, 2014. The court ruled in favor of Sobeys on July 25, 2014, which enabled pharmacy-based rewards to continue.

But after an Aug. 22, 2015, appeal of that decision by the college and subsequent hearings that December, the British Columbia Court of Appeal decided in favor of the college on Jan. 27, upholding the prohibition of pharmacy rewards. Sobeys appealed that ruling with the Supreme Court of Canada on March 24, but the high court dismissed the retailer’s appeal on July 7, which let the college’s bylaws against pharmacy incentives stand, as in the provincial appeals court ruling.

The courts essentially affirmed the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia’s standing as the regulatory body for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in British Columbia and determined that the council’s bylaws prohibiting pharmacy incentives — based on its expertise in the field of pharmacy practice — were reasonable.

The question was whether, given the expertise of council members and their concerns, the bylaws represented a reasonable response. This was a question of policy that would benefit from the particular expertise of pharmacists, as opposed to a court of law,” the July 25, 2014, ruling by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia said. The case, Sobeys West Inc. v. College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, also listed Shoppers Drug Mart as an intervenor.

Earlier this year, however, Sobeys prevailed in its legal challenge to a ban on pharmacy incentives by the Alberta College of Pharmacists (ACP). In March, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta determined in Sobeys West Inc. v. Alberta College of Pharmacists that there was no evidence of actual or potential harm to customers as a result of pharmacy rewards or other incentives, and that the ACP’s resolution overreached because it impacted pharmacies in the area of competition.

In April 2014, Sobeys had announced the formation a coalition to petition the ACP’s ban on pharmacy rewards. Besides the pharmacy operations of Sobeys and Canada Safeway, which Sobeys had acquired in late 2013, the coalition included the Chronic Pain Association of Canada and the Air Miles Reward Program and was supported by the Consumers’ Association of Canada and thousands of Alberta citizens.

Overall, Sobeys has more than 400 pharmacy locations across Canada, including 78 Lawtons Drugs stores.


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