A proposal to ban B.C. pharmacies from giving out loyalty points to customers for prescription drug purchases has been put on hold.
The controversial idea, which drew fire from point-collecting cardholders, is being shelved until the fall, when the College of Pharmacists of B.C. may reconsider it.
The regulatory body still wants to block pharmacies such as Shopper’s Drug Mart and Canada Safeway from awarding points to their loyalty card holders due to concern the rewards are a powerful lure that spur some customers to make poor decisions when buying medicine – harming their health or costing the system more money.
“It’s still something we’re very much moving forward with,” said spokesman Mykle Ludvigsen.
He said the college board, which decided Feb. 15 against including the points ban in a set of other bylaw changes now advancing, decided more public engagement was needed.
“We’re very aware there was a reaction to it,” Ludvigsen said.
Any adjustment of the proposal would result in a new round of public input ahead of a new vote of the pharmacists’ college board.
The health minister can then veto the change but the delay past the May provincial election means the final decision will fall to the next government. The NDP hasn’t taken a position on the issue.
The college’s rationale for the ban is some customers wait longer than they should to fill a prescription in order to get a bigger points bonus offered at a later date.
It also warned patients with third-party insurance who don’t pay out of pocket may keep refilling a prescription after they no longer need it just to collect more points.
The college calls that a drain on limited health care dollars and says drugs that are never used by the intended patient may be abused by others or diverted to the illegal drug trade.
The pharmacists’ body also objects on privacy grounds to the gathering of data as part of loyalty card programs.
The college hopes a points ban will result in patients choosing a pharmacy or pharmacist on their own merits, not inducements.
Some critics have called it a misguided attempt to prop up smaller independent pharmacies that struggle to compete against the big chains.
Similar reforms have been enacted in Ontario and Quebec. B.C. has banned point awards on Pharmacare-covered prescriptions since 2011.
Safeway and Shoppers Drug Mart have opposed the points ban on pharmaceuticals, while London Drugs supports it.
“Health is a very personal matter and it should not be driven by any kind of incentives,” said London Drugs pharmacy vice-president John Tse.