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Ban sought for loyalty programs at pharmacies

Many pharmacy customers go to Safeway or Shopper
Many pharmacy customers go to Safeway or Shopper's Drug Mart to collect points through loyalty programs. But the college of pharmacists wants to ban the offerings as inducements that could harm patients.
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by Wanda Chow, Black Press

For more than 30 years, Burnaby’s Corinne Bergdal has been a regular at pharmacies to fill insulin prescriptions to stay alive.

Now 42, she figures she now spends $5,000 to $6,000 a year to refill her insulin pump and buy related supplies to manage her Type 1 diabetes.

When she participated in a loyalty program, a small silver lining – if you could call it that – was she earned points that she could use to save money on other products in the store.

Now the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia is proposing to prohibit such programs, which include Air Miles at Safeway and Optimum points at Shoppers Drug Mart.

“The decision was made on the basis of what is in the interest of public health and safety,” said Mykle Ludvigsen, spokesman for the college. He noted that Ontario and Quebec also prohibit such programs and Alberta is at the same stage in its proposal to enact a ban.

Ludvigsen said the college has anecdotal reports of people making decisions about their medications, such as when to fill a prescription, based on how many loyalty points they can earn. “We do know that it happens.”

There’s also a chance that if their medications are fully covered by extended health or other plans people might fill prescriptions to get the points even if their doctor has told them they don’t need to take the drugs anymore, he said.

In such cases, the drugs might be taken by mistake or end up on the street.

“This isn’t good for anyone,” he said. “We’re taking action to prevent this from happening.”

And while medical conditions and drug purchases are kept confidential, Ludvigsen said loyalty programs still require the collection of basic information such as the amount, date and time of the purchase which they use in their marketing efforts aimed at the participating customer. That’s something the college opposes.

The public has until Dec. 28 to comment on the proposals.

Ludvigsen said based on the number of comments it has already received, the college expects to see a few thousand people to provide feedback before the deadline.

Once the feedback is reviewed, the board of the college will make its final decision in February, with the Minister of Health having the final say by May.

To comment on the proposed change, visit http://bit.ly/ZPvD0B.

 

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