Low-cost Amazon prescription plan could improve medication adherence

By MDLinx staff | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published January 25, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon’s RxPass service will enable customers to have a multitude of generic prescriptions shipped to them for a $5 monthly flat fee.

  • This plan is expected to help improve medication adherence among people who cannot afford their prescriptions otherwise. It will not, however, work with health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.

  • Physicians may want to make patients aware of the RxPass plan, which could be helpful to those for whom prescription costs are a deterrent or people who have difficulty getting to a drugstore.

Online retail giant Amazon has added a prescription plan, RxPass, aimed at saving its Prime service subscribers substantial money and time on generic medications.

For a flat fee of $5 a month, Prime members will be able to receive all of their eligible medications delivered to their homes at no additional cost with free shipping. This service is being viewed as Amazon’s big step into the pharmacy business and could significantly alter the medication landscape.

Expert: Plan could improve medication adherence

In an article published by Reuters, Amazon Pharmacy vice president John Love predicted RxPass could save the average Prime member about $100 per year.[] An annual subscription to Amazon Prime (which also includes free shipping on Amazon orders, Prime streaming, and other offerings) costs $139.

An expert speaking to MDLinx had a positive initial reaction to the RxPass plan.

"This is an excellent program for all patients, especially the underserved, uninsured, and elderly."

MDLinx contributor Scott Cunningham, MD

“The out-of-pocket costs of medications, especially but not limited to specialty medications, can be prohibitive and result in non-adherence,” Dr. Cunningham said. “A number of studies have estimated that up to two-thirds of patients do not take medications as prescribed due to cost and transportation (to the pharmacy) issues.”

Research published in January 2023 by PLOS One found that reducing list prices of medications down to approximate net prices resulted in lower out-of-pocket costs to patients that “may result in substantial changes in adherence to therapy.”[]

A study on the effectiveness of Medication Assistance Programs (MAP) to provide medications to uninsured and underinsured patients published by Exploratory Research in Clinical and Social Pharmacy found that the significant cost-cutting achieved through MAP increased their access to medications.[]

This study cited a 2019 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation in which 24% of people taking prescription drugs said it was difficult for them to afford their medications.[]

Amazon’s RxPass is being positioned as a potential solution to help patients better meet such challenges.

Related: As drug costs rise, nonprofit pharmacies respond

Includes more than 80 conditions

In a January 23, 2023, release, Amazon said medications for “more than 80 common conditions, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and acid reflux” will be included in a RxPass subscription.[]

Patients can search on the Amazon Pharmacy website to see if the medications they take are covered by the program. They will be able to choose between having their drugs shipped monthly or quarterly.

“It’s estimated that more than 150 million Americans take one or more of the medications available through the RxPass monthly subscription,” wrote Amazon Pharmacy chief medical officer Vin Gupta, MD, MPA.

"RxPass is our latest effort to help patients save time, save money, and stay healthy."

Amazon Pharmacy chief medical officer Vin Gupta, MD, MPA

According to the release, RxPass is available to Prime subscribers “in most US states.” They can sign up on the Amazon Pharmacy website or app.

Not covered by insurance

RxPass will not work with health insurance, so customers will not “need to worry about deductibles or copays,” Dr. Gupta wrote. Customers enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or other government health programs will be ineligible to sign up for the service.

The Amazon release also stated that “Amazon pharmacists or support staff are on hand 24/7, available to discuss medications and coordinate with a patient’s doctor.” In addition, customers can cancel RxPass “at any time” if their medication needs change.

Changing the landscape

According to the Reuters report, Amazon took its first big step in the pharmacy business in 2018 when it purchased the PillPack online pharmacy service and began setting up its own prescription delivery and price-comparison website.

The RxPass plan is expected to pose “a growing threat” to leading pharmacy retailers, including CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., according to Reuters.

A story published in 2022 by CB Insights recounted how Amazon “paved a path of destruction through books, music, toys, sports, and a range of other retail verticals.”[4] Time will tell if the RxPass plan enables Amazon to impact brick-and-mortar drugstores as it has in these other retail sectors.

Whatever its implications for the pharmacy business, RxPass could prove to be a huge boon to patients in helping them save money on the prescriptions they need.

What this means for you

Physicians may want to suggest to patients—especially those who encounter difficulty in affording prescriptions or encounter logistical difficulties (such as driving to a store) in purchasing them—that they consider enrolling in the RxPass service. If they find it includes the medications they need, it may be an ideal way to help ensure adherence to their regimen.

Read Next: Helping when patients can’t afford their medication
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