Amazon, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate, has now moved into the pharmaceutical industry, which is apparently worth $4 trillion a year. Starting in the USA, Amazon customers will be able to provide their insurance and health information, and will be eligible to order prescription medicines. Amazon will apparently offer two-day delivery to Prime members alongside, discounts on general and prescribed medicines. According to the BBC ‘up to 80% on generic medicines and 40% on prescribed brand-name drugs.’ During the coronavirus crisis, where many people are increasingly relying on home deliveries for essential goods from food to pharmaceuticals, Amazon’s announcement is well timed.
According to The Times, since the announcement, ‘shares in US pharmacy chains fell sharply after the announcement, with Walgreens Boots Alliance, the owner of Boots in Britain, closed down 9.6 per cent in New York. CVS Health, the largest pharmacy chain in America, fell by 8.6 per cent.’ Amazon’s move will no doubt threaten pharmaceutical giants such as CVS, Walgreens and other large retailers such as Walmart.
CNBC reported ‘Amazon has been quietly building out its pharmacy offering for several years after ramping up internal discussions in 2017 and acquiring PillPack in 2018. The pharmacy space is notoriously complex and competitive in the U.S., and Amazon Pharmacy is built in part on PillPack’s infrastructure, including its pharmacy software, fulfilment centers and relationships with health plans.’
Amazon’s Pharmacy has already launched, beginning with only 45 states across the United States. The states not included, but Amazon hopes to eventually include, are Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Illinois. The site will have to ask customers various questions before they can order drugs, in compliance with laws around pharmacy care and helping pharmacists correctly dispense prescriptions. Amazon will apparently screen for any potential drug conflicts as other pharmaceutical providers already do. Doctors will also be able to send prescriptions directly to Amazon Pharmacy, or an existing retailer such as Walgreens will be able to transfer prescriptions to the online provider. Amazon Pharmacy will allegedly accept most forms of insurance, and may also offer savings to those who do not have insurance. Customers can use a range of payment methods to pay for the prescriptions including flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts. With discount and deals in place, Amazon will be apparently be providing very competitive and affordable medication to both the insured and uninsured.
Amazon will offer a range of prescription, branded and generic drugs, from birth control to insulin. According to CNBC ‘Amazon says it has tools to verify that a physician legitimately ordered each prescription, and to tamp down on potential fraud.’ According to PCMag Amazon Pharmacy will be a brand new store, offering its service on the Amazon App. A person’s pharmacy profile will be secure and allow a person to manage their prescriptions without leaving their homes.
TJ Parker, Amazon’s vice president of pharmacy and co-founder of PillPack was quoted stating: “We designed Amazon Pharmacy to put customers first – bringing Amazon’s customer obsession to an industry that can be inconvenient and confusing, we work hard behind the scenes to handle complications seamlessly so anyone who needs a prescription can understand their options, place their order for the lowest available price, and have their medication delivered quickly.” Jamil Ghani, Vice President, Amazon Prime, added: “We understand the importance of access to affordable medication, and we believe Prime members will find tremendous value with the new Amazon Prime prescription savings benefit, our goal is for Prime to make members’ lives easier and more convenient every day, and we’re excited to extend the incredible savings, seamless shopping experience, and fast, free delivery members know and love with Prime to Amazon Pharmacy.”
Some people however, are concerned about giving their health data to a tech corporation, let alone a conglomerate the size of Amazon. As basic health information such as gender, date of birth, insurance information, whether they are pregnant alongside more detailed information will be required to access prescriptions. Speaking to BBC News, former Amazon executive James Thomson said ‘he could imagine Amazon offering gym equipment, specific groceries or other products based on the health data of a particular customer. “When those types of things start to happen, I believe it will become much more apparent that we have a major major data problem here,” he said.’
However, according to CNBC, this could be separate, quoting TJ Parker, who stated: “The information and experience you have inside the pharmacy is separate and distinct from the experience that you have on Amazon.com.”