How Amazon Pharmacy Could Save You Money on Prescription Drugs
Amazon Pharmacy is a program that challenges the convenience and pricing of traditional brick-and-mortar pharmacies. Here's how it works and whether it can help you save money.
What is Amazon Pharmacy?
There’s not much you can’t buy on Amazon. From groceries and sweatpants to live ladybugs and home mushroom farms, the site has everyone covered for just about anything they might need.
Recently, it expanded its offerings by establishing Amazon Pharmacy, a service where people 18 or over can get prescriptions filled and shipped to them directly. This can bring you another step closer to never having to leave the house. And with the recent Covid-19 pandemic and on and off lockdowns, this is welcome news, especially for Amazon Prime members. (Psst, here’s what your pharmacist won’t tell you.)
If you’re already a member of Amazon Prime, the membership program with an annual fee of $119, your free shipping privileges will extend to medicines, as well. (Here are the silent signs your medications are making you sick.)
Amazon and PillPack
In 2018, Amazon bought the pharmacy service PillPack, which has morphed into the release of Amazon’s full-blown pharmacy program. PillPack was known for competitive pricing and convenient packaging designed to help consumers remember to take their meds. It also promoted automatic refills and a 24/7 customer helpline.
Amazon is taking things a step further, offering Amazon Pharmacy on the Amazon app and online, as well as a savings program that allows Prime members to enjoy discounted rates at over 50,000 other participating pharmacies. (Make sure you ask these questions before taking prescription medications.)
How do I use Amazon Pharmacy and the savings program?
Here’s how it works: You tell your doctor’s office you want your prescription filled through Amazon Pharmacy, and they send the prescription there just as they would a local pharmacy. (For the record, prescriptions are sent to a phone number and address linked to the Amazon Pharmacy in Austin, Texas.) You enter your insurance information into Amazon’s system. If you are given a hard-copy prescription, you or your doctor can mail it to Amazon Pharmacy. Or Amazon can reach out to your doctor’s office for authorization.
You can also bring your prescription to a local pharmacy and ask Amazon Pharmacy to call and transfer the refills, according to Jacquelyn Miller, an Amazon spokesperson. Then, according to Amazon’s pricing guide, they show you the copay price with insurance and the estimated cash price without insurance before you pay so you can choose the better option.
If you are looking to use the savings benefit at another pharmacy, you can follow Amazon’s directions to obtain your savings card.
Will it work with my insurance?
Yes, you can upload your insurance information which can be saved for future reference. But this is where most people are finding Amazon to be beneficial: Sometimes the medicines are cheaper without your insurance than with it. Prime members can save “80 percent off generic and 40 percent off brand name medications when paying without insurance,” according to the company’s recent press release. (These are the health insurance secrets you should know.)
Amazon is able to make this possible through the involvement of Inside Rx, a subsidiary of Evernorth, “providing affordable access to medication for self-paying consumers.” (Here are the health perks you can get for free.)
Amazon Pharmacy timing and delivery
If you need a prescription filled immediately—like, say, an antibiotic for an infection—Amazon Pharmacy may not be the best way to go.
“Free two-day delivery is available for Prime members and free standard shipping is available for all other Amazon customers,” says Miller. But “two-day delivery” means two days after the prescription leaves the Amazon Pharmacy fulfillment center. So timing “depends on if we already have the prescription on file, if we need to confirm insurance, or if there are other pieces of information,” adds Miller.
She also clarifies that it may take a few days before the initial prescription is filled and the medication can be prepared for shipment.
But if you can wait a few days, or you have a medicine you take on an ongoing basis, the convenience of home delivery is worth the wait, especially during the pandemic. (Beware of the medication mistakes that make you sick.)
Spencer Kroll, MD, an internal medicine specialist in New Jersey, calls Amazon’s entry into the marketplace “well-timed.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique opportunity for online retailers to vastly accelerate their business expansion,” he says. “Home delivery of medication and a centralization of your prescription list will undoubtedly be followed by a centralization of your medical records and a move to more home-based medical care.”
Other benefits of Amazon Pharmacy
An additional reason consumers may be attracted to the program, according to Dr. Kroll, is the simplicity of having all of your medications in one place.
“Ultimately, one of the best potential benefits of Amazon’s control of your medication is the centralization of your medication list,” he says. “There will be less fragmentation between pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices.” (These are the pharmacist medication errors to keep in mind.)
“Amazon, like other pharmacies, will be able to check for medication interactions, potential non-compliance by not refilling, and potential duplication of therapy,” says Dr. Kroll. He explains that sometimes prescriptions go to multiple pharmacies with no centralized database. When consumers log on to Amazon Pharmacy and put in their information, the system asks for medicines they are already taking, if they have any allergies, and if they are pregnant or nursing to prevent interactions.
And if you’ve ever had a question in the middle of the night about a drug you’re taking, the convenience of Amazon’s 24/7 pharmacists may be the biggest benefit of all. (These are the times a pharmacist may know more than a doctor.)
What are the medication savings with Amazon Pharmacy?
Medication savings will vary depending on your insurance. Without insurance, however, you can compare rates by looking up each medicine on Amazon Pharmacy. Make sure you compare generic medicines with generics, and not the name brand. Also ensure you are comparing the same dosage and quantity, and look for a local price comparison, such as this database for New York.
For example, the blood pressure medicine lisinopril (Prinivil and Zestril) costs $3.80 at Amazon Pharmacy, compared to $4 at Walmart and $12.99 at CVS.
The anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drug sertraline (Zoloft) costs $14.30 at Amazon Pharmacy, compared to $4 at Walmart and $35.59 at CVS.
So, depending on the medicine, Amazon may or may not be the lowest without insurance. (Also, here are the secrets to lowering your medical bills.)
How Amazon Pharmacy may change the industry
So while it works well with your insurance, some experts think it may be designed to work better without it. For example, Jolene Caufield, senior advisor at Healthy Howard, a Maryland nonprofit focused on healthcare and resources says that because buyers can save even more without health insurance, it “unravels the way health insurance leads their customers to certain brands of drugs as well as to certain physical pharmacies.” She calls the situation “devastating” to health insurance companies.
“People could just as easily opt for lower premiums that don’t cover much for prescription drugs, so they can save more when they pay out-of-pocket through Amazon Pharmacy,” says Caufield. “This means lower cuts for health insurance providers and bigger savings for people, especially if they only seldom get [prescriptions].”
Consumers have the option to choose between the non-insurance and the copay with insurance price at checkout, and sometimes will have a cheaper option without utilizing their insurance.
Next, here are the silent signs you may be slipping into a pain prescription drug addiction.
- Amazon: "Introducing Amazon Pharmacy: Prescription Medications Delivered"
- Amazon: "Prime Rx"
- Amazon: "Pricing Guide"
- Jacquelyn Miller, an Amazon spokesperson, CEO and founder of Jacqueline Dujour Enterprises, a service that empowers young women, and an author
- Business Wire: "Amazon to Acquire PillPack"
- NYS Department of Health: "Prescription Drug Prices in the State of New York"
- Spencer Kroll, MD, an internal medicine specialist in New Jersey
- Jolene Caufield, senior advisor at Healthy Howard, Laurel, Maryland