Court ruling strikes down regulator's bylaws prohibiting reward points for drug purchases

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      The companies that own Safeway and Thrifty Foods grocery stores in B.C. have won a court fight to resume customer-incentive programs at their pharmacies.

      Today, B.C. Supreme Court chief justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia's ban on these "incentives" is "overly broad".

      Hinkson stated in his decision that the college can craft new bylaws that "reasonably address" certain issues outlined in his ruling. "If new and different concerns come to the attention of the respondent, it will, of course, be open to it to address those concerns by the adoption of other bylaws," he wrote.

      The college's bylaws defined incentives to include "money, gifts, discounts, rebates, refunds, customer loyalty schemes, coupons, goods or rewards".

      The grocery chains argued that the college's bylaws were "unreasonable" because there's no evidence of harm that justifies such a broad prohibition.

      In addition, the companies argued that the bylaws "go beyond what could be required to address the theoretical harms raised". Moreover, they claimed that the net effect of the bylaws is that they were harmful to the public interest.

      The regulator argued that "bonus days" in which customers would receive more than the usual reward points for purchases could "potentially cause an unmanageable increase in workload for on-duty pharmacists".

      This, it claimed, "could increase the likelihood of them to make errors in filling prescriptions".

      In addition, the college alleged that bonus days might cause consumers to delay filling necessary prescriptions until they could get more rewards.

      Another claim was that these programs could cause customers to transfer prescriptions between pharmacies, undermining continuity of care.

      Yet another objection was that the programs could cause customers to obtain more drugs than necessary to get more rewards.

      Finally, the college maintained that if pharmacists spent too much time explaining incentive programs, this would leave less time to discuss medications with customers.

      According to Hinkson's ruling, the college "received some 14,000 emails" from the public on the matter.

      "The considerable majority of these emails opposed a prohibition of the incentive programs associated with the purchase of drugs or devices," he noted.


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      Jul 28, 2014 at 9:09pm

      The College ignored the public on this issue and now have been put in place by the court. It is truly pathetic that a group of self serving pharmacists can make these type of policy decisions ignoring the public input which they asked for. It's pathetic that the 'self regulate' their profession using tax payer dollars with little to no oversight from our elected representatives. Given the time, effort and cost of this legal battle I think it should be incumbent on the BC Government to re-evaluate how this self serving group is operating. A group of 12 telling business in BC how they should operate and then spending millions of tax dollars defending their atrocious actions in court...totally uncalled for and a waste of our tax resources.

      Clayton Giles

      Jul 28, 2014 at 10:35pm

      I really have to wonder how many people are interested enough in getting points that they're going to delay filling their Rx's until bonus days or do any of the other things mentioned. Perhaps I am naive, but I think most people aren't obsessed with customer loyalty programs. The rewards aren't going to make anybody wealthy.

      8 5Rating: +3


      Jul 29, 2014 at 3:38am

      These points programs are just another way to get people spending more money.
      A clerk at the local Thrifty's told me that their business doubles during 'bonus weeks' when the points are doubled on purchases.

      As for points on prescriptions, this practice definitely gives an advantage to the big stores over the smaller drug stores.

      BTW-I get Save On 'reward' points-you have to have a card to get the sale prices-but never redeem them for anything...just a bunch of crappy stuff.

      6 6Rating: 0


      Jul 29, 2014 at 7:32am

      This is all very fascinating given that Thrifty's has just notified all customers that they are doing away with their loyalty program and switching to AIRMILES, a program which cons folks into their system and which takes years and years for anyone to get any rewards. The exception is, of course, those who buy baskets overflowing with groceries. At least with Thrifty's current program one could get $10 cash back after a reasonable amount of purchases. Now, all that is to vanish come fall.

      5 4Rating: +1


      Jul 29, 2014 at 1:10pm

      We have travelled to Hawaii several times using airmiles
      If you shop smart you can collect thousands a year
      The biggest gain was prescriptions when safeway was giving 7 times points on every renewal
      Thriftys is getting into the airmiles game and we can once again see Hawaii flights on our horizon

      2 7Rating: -5