Amazon launches subscription prescription drugs service in US

The retail giant announced it will launch RxPass for customers with Prime membership.

Amazon launches subscription prescription drugs service in US stockcam via iStock

Amazon is adding a prescription drugs discount programme to its growing healthcare business in the US.

The retail giant said on Tuesday that it will launch RxPass, a subscription service for customers who have Prime membership.

Amazon said people will pay five US dollars (£4) a month to fill as many prescriptions as they need from a list of about 50 generic medications, which are generally cheaper versions of brand-name drugs.

The company said the flat fee could cover a list of medications like the antibiotic amoxicillin and the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen.

Sildenafil, used to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Viagra as well as for a form of high blood pressure, is also on the list.

Amazon sells a range of generic drugs through its pharmacy service. Some already cost as little as one dollar (80p) for a 30-day supply, so the benefit of this new programme will vary by customer.

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

Karen Van Nuys, an economist at the University of Southern California who studies drug pricing, said any programme that gets low-cost generic drugs to more patients “is a good thing” but that she is not sure how much of an impact RxPass will have.

She noted that the programme is limited to Amazon Prime customers. Other options like the Mark Cuban CostPlus Drug Co sell more generic drugs, many for under five dollars (£4).

“I just don’t know that it’s expanding access to a new set of patients,” she said.

Nevertheless, the move could help the company take up some more space in the healthcare market, even though it has not always been successful in its aim.

Last year, the company closed its hybrid virtual, in-home care service called Amazon Care after it failed to get traction from employers.

And Haven, a company Amazon created in collaboration with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve health costs, dissolved a year earlier than that.

Amazon has said its online drug store Amazon Pharmacy is a key part of its healthcare plan, along with primary care organisation One Medical, which the online giant is seeking to acquire for 3.9 billion US dollars (£3.2bn). The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed buyout.

In November, the company also said it will 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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