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Sobeys rejected in bid for Rx rewards in Alberta

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STELLARTON, Nova Scotia — A court in Alberta has closed the book on efforts by Sobeys Inc.’s to remove a ban on loyalty rewards for prescription drug purchases by the Alberta College of Pharmacists (ACP).

The Canadian food and drug retailer said the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned a decision against the ban last year by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. In that ruling, the court found no evidence of actual or potential harm to customers as a result of pharmacy rewards or other incentives and concluded that the ACP’s resolution overreached because it impacted pharmacies in the area of competition.

With the latest decision, all pharmacies in Alberta are now prohibited from offering loyalty rewards to customers for buying prescriptions.

Sobeys store“We are obviously very disappointed with this decision,” Jedd Wood, vice president and general manager of Sobeys National Pharmacy Group, said in a statement. “In addition to the professional services and trusted advice provided by Safeway, Sobeys and IGA pharmacists, we believe that we contribute to better patient care by offering rewards that help increase loyalty, adherence and ultimately improved health outcomes. While this ruling has now taken away loyalty rewards from all Albertans, our pharmacists will continue to offer trusted professional advice and the best possible care to our patients.”

Sobeys, which has more than 400 retail pharmacy locations, including Lawtons Drug stores, initially applied for judicial review of the ACP’s rewards ban in 2014.

In April of that year, the retailer announced the formation of a coalition to petition the ban. 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.

The ACP said it enacted the prescription drug rewards ban due to concerns about its potential impact on pharmacy care decisions.

“Why we’ve been so passionate about this issue is that the sorts of inducements offered by community pharmacies started to change,” according to Greg Eberhart, registrar for the Alberta College of Pharmacists. “They began to involve bonuses, or more rewards points on specific days, or benefits if a patient changed pharmacists, all of which had potential to disrupt professional relationships and affect decisions important to care.”

Specifically under the ACP’s ban, Alberta pharmacies cannot offer inducements in exchange for the provision of a prescribed drug, Schedule 2 drugs (only provided after consultation with a pharmacist) or professional services.

“Pharmacists are responsible for more than dispensing and selling drugs,” Eberhart noted. “In Alberta, pharmacists have what is among the broadest scopes of practice anywhere in the world. They have the ability to assess and adapt prescriptions, prescribe medications, create care plans and administer vaccines by injection. All pharmacists have the responsibility to be in the moment and be objective when exercising critical thinking with every decision they make about the health of those they serve.”

Sobeys already had been unsuccessful in trying to allow rewards for prescription purchases in British Columbia. Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Sobeys’ appeal to permit British Columbia consumers to collect rewards points on pharmacy purchases.

That decision had 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 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 meant that British Columbia pharmacies can’t offer incentives — including redeemable points, cash, gifts or other loyalty program benefits — for prescription purchases or pharmacy services, according to the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia.


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