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B.C. court OKs pharmacy incentives

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver



A set of pharmaceutical bylaws that made offering incentive programs for pharmacy services illegal has been struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The bylaws put in place by the College of Pharmacists of B.C. came into effect late last year and effectively banned most pharmaceutical incentives, including discounts, rebates, loyalty programs, coupons, gifts or rewards.

Sobeys West Inc., which owns and operates Safeway grocery stores in B.C. and Jace Holdings Ltd — owners and operators of Thirfty Foods — argued “there is no evidence of actual harm” caused by incentives, that the bylaws are overly broad and harmful to the public interest.

For example, according to the court decision, the majority of 14,000 feedback emails from the public opposed a prohibition of the incentives.

The judge decided the incentives let consumers obtain pharmacy services at the lowest price, and are in the public’s interest.

The college argued the bylaws were brought in place because they didn’t want patients to make pharmaceutical decisions based on whether or not they’d get points.

The court heard incentives are a problem particularly in for low-income and vulnerable people.

“I have encountered many patients that, upon presenting a new prescription, want, as their first priority to know how many points they are going to get,” argued Bev Harris, vice-chair of the college board.

According to the court, Thrifty Foods has both a monetary incentive and a points incentive. Sobeys offers Air Miles incentives. 

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