By Jim Collier
Many people take advantage of the prescription drug promotions provided by major grocery chains such as Tom Thumb-Safeway-Randall and Kroger that result in savings on gasoline purchases.
Tom Thumb has offered a ten cent per gallon discount for each two prescriptions obtained at their pharmacies. Until sometime in May there was no other requirement. Due to some bureaucrat determining this is a “kickback,” this Rewards Program has been discontinued for Medicare Part D, Medicaid, and any other federally affiliated participants. Those participants include virtually every Medicare recipient in the United States.
If this is not an example of the bureaucratic bungling common to our federal and corporate legal officials it is nothing at all. The result is blatant age discrimination and another reach into the wallets of the most vulnerable part of our populace.
A call to Kroger Headquarters had an unpleasant outcome. When the Customer Service Representative was asked how participation in the Prescription Rewards Program could be construed as the criminal act of accepting a kickback, her reply was, “Of course it’s criminal.” The Customer Service Representatives of both corporations stated the programs were discontinued due to an interpretation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Law. This is a stretch for even the rather obtuse minds inhabiting the Federal legal community.
The question begs: How can a discount for using a Loyalty Rewards Program be equated to a criminal bribery payoff?
At last, the word mindboggling is truly meaningful.
The Tom Thumb-Safeway CSR was much more professional. She stated she thought the policy change was questionable, then gave me the number for their legal division. A voice mail requesting a callback was left at that number. A Corporate Legal Advisor called back within two hours (the attorney requested anonymity.)
The change to corporate policy is the result of the Office of Inspector General Advisory Opinion 12-05, approved April 24, 2012 for implementation May 1, 2012, which said the discount might be construed as a kickback. The attorney said although this is in the form of an Advisory it might as well be rule of law since corporations bend over backwards to avoid conflict with the OIG.
[Link to the OIG Advisory Opinion]
A reading of the document does not reveal any intent by the OIG to terminate the incentive programs for Medicare, Medicaid, or other federally affiliated employees. The corporate lawyer stated, in his opinion, the incentive program needed to be modified to count the customers’ copays toward a gasoline discount, rather than the number of prescriptions, which was the previous basis.
Jim Collier is a retired telecommunications engineer from Lewisville. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Tom Thumb Gas Rewards: Not so much.