Amazon launches $5-a-month prescription drug service for Prime members

Amazon is adding a prescription drug discount program to its growing healthcare business.

The retail giant announced on Tuesday that it will launch RxPass, a subscription service for customers who have Prime subscriptions. Amazon said people would pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they needed from a list of about 50 generic drugs, which are usually cheaper reversals of brand name drugs.

The company said the flat fee could cover a list of drugs such as the antibiotic amoxicillin and the anti-inflammatory naproxen.

Sildenafil also made the list. It is used to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Viagra and also treats a form of high blood pressure.

Amazon sells a range of generic drugs through its pharmacy service. Some already cost as little as $1 for a 30-day supply, so the benefits of this new program will vary by customer.

Amazon said people would pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they needed from a list of about 50 generic drugs.
Christopher Sadowski

The program does not use insurance, and people with government-funded Medicaid or Medicare coverage are not eligible. It will be available in 42 states and Washington, DC at launch.

Any program that provides low-cost generic drugs to more patients “is a good thing,” said Karen Van Nuys, an economist who studies drug pricing at the University of Southern California. But she added that she wasn’t sure what impact RxPass will have.

She noted that the program is limited to Amazon Prime customers. Other options like Mark Cuban CostPlus Drug Co. sell more generic drugs, many for less than $5.

“I just don’t know that it expands access to a new set of patients,” Van Nuys said.

Still, the move could help the company take more of a foothold in the healthcare market, though it hasn’t always been successful in achieving its goal. Last year, the company shut down its virtual hybrid homecare service called Amazon Care after it failed to get employers on board. And Haven, an Amazon company created in conjunction with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve healthcare costs, dissolved a year earlier.

Amazon said its Amazon Pharmacy online pharmacy is a key part of its healthcare plan, alongside primary care organization One Medical, which the online giant is seeking to acquire for $3.9 billion. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed takeover.

In November, the company also announced that it would begin offering “Amazon Clinic,” a messaging service that connects patients with doctors for about two dozen common conditions, such as allergies and hair loss.

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