Amazon is taking yet another bold step into the world of healthcare, further solidifying its powerful footprint in the business-to-consumer “B2C” space. Earlier this week, the tech giant announced its new “RxPass” program, which is a $5 subscription plan that enables Amazon Prime members to get easy access to and free delivery for numerous medications.
Dr. Vin Gupta, Pulmonologist and Chief Medical Officer for Amazon Pharmacy, explains in his post: “Over the last decade as a practicing pulmonologist, I have seen patients with chronic diseases struggle to get access to the basic medications they need to live their lives well. Navigating insurance can be a maze and getting to the pharmacy a burden. Sometimes that has led to poor outcomes: New medications don’t get filled, refills don’t get picked up, and patients suffer. Aspects of our health care system make what should be easy, difficult. It’s why I feel so fortunate to be a part of the change that Amazon Pharmacy is helping to bring to this space.”
The post goes on to explain the details of the new initiative by Amazon: “RxPass [is] a new Prime membership benefit from Amazon Pharmacy that provides patients with affordable access to generic medications that treat more than 80 common health conditions for just $5 a month. With RxPass, Prime members can get as many eligible medications as they need for one flat, low fee of $5 and have them conveniently delivered free to their door.”
Indeed, the company is attempting to resolve a very real pain point. Millions of Americans (Amazon estimates nearly 150 million Americans) require the same medications that are available on RxPass. For many people, however, acquiring these medications is not an easy process. Often, it entails navigating a cumbersome process with insurance, filing claims, paying a co-pay, and actually having to go to the physical pharmacy to pick up the medication when it is ready. RxPass is effectively trying to remove a number of these barriers, especially by eliminating the insurance component in the process.
There has been a significant amount of attention in the pharmacy space over the last decade, especially as the costs of prescription medications have skyrocketed, often being a prohibitive factor for people to receive the treatment they require.
Another notable venture in this space is being spearheaded by American entrepreneur, early tech investor, media personality, and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban. Last year, Cuban announced a revolutionary initiative called the CostPlus Drug Company—a means to make medications more affordable and easier to acquire for Americans. He explains that “We started Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company because every American should have access to safe, affordable medicines. If you don’t have insurance or have a high deductible plan, you know that even the most basic medications can cost a fortune. Many people are spending crazy amounts of money each month just to stay healthy. No American should have to suffer or worse - because they can’t afford basic prescription medications.”
“When you get your medicine from Cost Plus Drug Co., you’ll always know exactly how we arrived at the price you pay. And as we grow and our costs go down, we will always pass those savings on to you! We started this company as an effort to disrupt the drug industry and to do our best to end ridiculous drug prices.”
At the core, Cuban and Amazon are tackling a very similar question: what is the most convenient and affordable way to increase people’s access to life-saving medications?
While both companies will undoubtedly face growing pains in the coming years by regulators, policy makers, healthcare providers, and patients themselves, one thing is certain: both companies hold incredible potential to help increase access to care for millions of people.
Written by: Sai Balasubramanian, M.D., J.D.