It's convenient, but is it a good idea?

By Tonya Russell
November 20, 2020
Advertisement
Credit: Getty Images - Design: Alex Sandoval

Back in 2018, Amazon made a huge move by purchasing PillPack, an online pharmacy startup. Two years later, the retail giant is officially entering the health-care marketplace with the launch of Amazon Pharmacy.

The new store, currently accessible in 45 states via Amazon's website and mobile app, allows you to add your health insurance information (the brand says it works "with most U.S. insurance plans"), order and manage prescriptions (both generic and brand-name), and choose payment options. You can also ask your doctor to send new or existing prescriptions directly to Amazon Pharmacy to have them filled. From there, you'd simply confirm the request through the Amazon app or website. You can sign up for free at pharmacy.amazon.com, where your info will be securely stored in compliance with HIPAA regulations, according to a press release. (Related: 7 Ways to Make Picking a Health Insurance Plan Less Stressful)

Naturally, Amazon Prime members are privy to a couple of extra perks. Prime members not only get unlimited, free two-day delivery, but those who don't have health insurance also have an opportunity to potentially save big on prescriptions. At no additional cost, Prime members who don't have insurance can present their Amazon Rx savings card at checkout to save up to 80 percent off generic and 40 percent off brand-name medications, according to a press release.

Plus, regardless of whether you have insurance coverage or a Prime membership, Amazon will show you a breakdown of price options at checkout, including the copay price with insurance (if you have it) and the lowest price without insurance, including any savings you'd get if you were a Prime member.

Not all medications and medical supplies are available through Amazon Pharmacy, though. As of now, the retailer won't deliver Schedule II controlled medications (read: most opioids), medical devices, breast pumps, or diabetic testing and supplies, among other types of medications. (Here's the full list of medications that aren't available through Amazon Pharmacy.)

What about birth control, you ask? That's fair game. So, should you consider getting your birth control through Amazon Pharmacy?

It depends. For one thing, if you're new to birth control (especially methods such as the birth control shot) and don't quite know what to expect, it may be best to see a pharmacist in-person in case you have questions, says Christina M. Madison, Pharm.D., founder of the consulting firm The Public Health Pharmacist. (Related: The Most Common Birth Control Side Effects)

That said, Amazon's online pharmacy does offer virtual consultations with pharmacists who are available 24/7. Even so, Amazon also suggests getting first-time prescriptions filled traditionally at an in-person pharmacy (ditto for "urgent medications including antibiotics or medications you'll run out of this week", notes the e-retailer).

Madison also advises against relying on Amazon for an emergency contraceptive such as Plan B (which, BTW, is actually available on Amazon's regular website, not Amazon Pharmacy). While placing an Amazon order might seem like a convenient way to get emergency BC — or monthly birth control, or any medication, for that matter — there's always the chance that the delivery window is longer than originally estimated, leaving you in a troubling situation. You can afford to have a new pair of leggings arrive a few days late, but a time-sensitive medication like birth control? Not so much.

That's not to say it's necessarily a bad idea to get your birth control through Amazon Pharmacy. Madison notes that there are already plenty of online pharmacies where you can get your BC script filled, such as Nurx (which, unlike Amazon Pharmacy, connects you with a doctor who then writes your prescription). (Related: New Recommendations Say *All* Hormonal Birth Control Should Be Available Over-the-Counter)

Plus, there's no denying the convenience of telemedicine, especially right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Telemedicine has provided a low-friction way to solve a problem," says Eric Levin, CEO of Scripta Insights, a health care IT and data analytics company. "You don't have to go to a pharmacy and wait in line to pick it up while risking being exposed to other people." (Related: What Is Telemedicine, Exactly?)

As for medication cost, Levin says he doesn't anticipate there being a significant difference between Amazon Pharmacy's prices and other online services'. Considering the huge size of Amazon's customer base, the retailer might be able to temporarily shave a little extra off of the cost of a prescription, but it probably wouldn't be a radical difference long-term, he says. This is especially true for someone using insurance since health insurance companies have the final say on pricing, he adds.

For Prime members without insurance, the Amazon Rx savings card is one way to potentially score discounts. But Levin says those prices probably still won't be "much better" than what you'd find elsewhere. He notes that most pharmacies already take discount cards (such as GoodRx), and many doctors give patients coupons for their medication. Levin recommends shopping around before signing up for Amazon Pharmacy to make sure you have a good sense of your price options.

Bottom line: Amazon Pharmacy might be good for some folks, including those who have been on their medication for a while, says Madison. But it really depends on your needs, and it's best to talk to your doctor about it first.

"When you're looking at somebody who's had an acute illness or an acute infection, the traditional pharmacy setting is going to be best for them," explains Madison. "They're going to require more counseling and more follow-up, which would be more challenging if you were just receiving the prescription through the mail or delivered by Amazon."

Comments

Be the first to comment!