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Alberta court ruling says pharmacist regulator can ban reward points for drugs

EDMONTON _ A court ruling means Albertans will not be able to collect reward points for drug purchases or pharmacy services.

The Alberta Court of Appeal on Friday overturned a 2016 ruling that said the regulator of Alberta pharmacists did not have the legal power to impose a ban on consumer loyalty programs.

The Alberta College of Pharmacists wanted the ban on pharmacists and pharmacies in 2014, but the Sobeys grocery chain challenged the plan.

The college’s appeal argued that pharmacists are a key part of the health-care system and that it had the authority to ensure high ethical standards.

A panel of Appeal Court judges, citing a similar case in British Columbia, ruled the Alberta college’s ban was reasonable.

Greg Eberhart, registrar of the college, said consumer loyalty programs could disrupt professional relationships that should be focused on health care.

He said some consumers were moving between different pharmacies to cash in on inducements.

“In Alberta, pharmacists have what is among the broadest scopes of practice anywhere in the world,” he said. “They have the ability to assess and adapt prescriptions, prescribe medications, create care plans and administer vaccines by injection.

“What’s most important to pharmacy professionals is the health of the individuals they serve.”

Eberhart said the ban on loyalty programs in Alberta begins immediately.

The college governs about 5,500 pharmacists in the province and 1,400 pharmacy technicians.

Officials with Sobeys were not immediately available for comment.

The Alberta judgment follows a unanimous British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling in January 2016 in favour of bylaws passed by B.C.’s pharmacist regulator that banned incentives for prescriptions or pharmacy services.

An earlier B.C. court decision had struck down the ban.

The College of Pharmacists of British Columbia said it considered incentives such as redeemable points to be unethical, unsafe and unprofessional.

Sobeys Inc. has 1,500 stores in all 10 provinces under retail banners that include Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Price Chopper, Thrifty Foods and Lawtons Drugs.

It is a subsidiary of Nova-Scotia-based Empire Company Ltd (TSX:EMP.A).