Supreme Court upholds ban on B.C. pharmacy reward points

Regulators consider prescription incentives a health risk

Shoppers in B.C. who love to collect Air Miles or other loyalty reward points when they fill prescriptions are out of luck.

A ban on pharmacies offering loyalty rewards or other incentives on prescription drugs will remain in force after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal filed by major retailers.

The College of Pharmacists of British Columbia passed a bylaw banning incentives such as redeemable points on the grounds that the practice is unethical, unsafe and unprofessional because patients can be tempted to buy drugs they don’t need.

“Pharmacists are medication experts, and sometimes the right thing for them to do is not dispense a drug,” said college registrar Bob Nakagawa. “A patient’s motivation to collect redeemable points may inappropriately encourage drug use and can put their health at risk.”

One of the objections raised by the college was that insured patients who don’t pay out of pocket might continue to refill a prescription after they no longer need it just to collect more points and the unneeded drugs may be abused or diverted to the illegal drug trade.

Incentives have long been forbidden on methadone prescriptions as well as any Pharmacare-covered prescriptions.

The ban was challenged by Sobeys, which owns Safeway and Thrifty Foods stores, on the basis it was an unreasonable restraint, with no evidence of any harm to consumers.

A B.C. Supreme Court  judge originally overturned the ban as having been too broad, but the B.C. Court of Appeal sided with the college in January. The ban has been in force since then.

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