Amazon continues push in healthcare with RxPass

Amazon continues push in healthcare with RxPass

Amazon’s latest foray into the healthcare space is arguably its most dramatic foray yet, but it comes with major concerns from healthcare experts and critics alike.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced the launch of RxPass, a subscription service benefit for Prime members that initially offers over 50 commonly prescribed generic medications along with free two-day shipping. For a flat rate of $5 per month, Prime members can now refill any of their in-program medications after verifying eligibility and prescribing information, regardless of existing insurance coverage.

[Related: Amazon telehealth service goes live in 32 US states.]

RxPass represents a potentially important new phase in Amazon’s previously slow but steady push into the national healthcare industry. Late last year, big-tech giant unveiled Amazon Clinic, a telehealth service that connects consumers with licensed professionals to help with the Helping treat common conditions like acne, allergies and asthma while offering prescriptions like birth control. Amazon Pharmacy has also been offering medication fulfillment alternatives to its customers since 2020, but the launch of RxPass could represent one of the most enticing healthcare alternatives for Prime members.

However, some critics aren’t so sure about its actual consumer reach, pointing to its limitation to Prime subscribers, who pay at least $139 annually for their membership. “I just don’t know that it expands access to a new group of patients,” said Karen Van Nuys, a University of Southern California economist who focuses on drug pricing The Washington Post on Tuesday. Van Nuys also cited the existence of similarly priced services to Mark Cuban’s CostPlus Drug Co., which launched last year.

With the newfound potential convenience of RxPass comes a significant potential privacy cost. First, Amazon had an extremely troubling track record in data security long before it ventured any further into the lucrative and consequential healthcare sector. And even with enhanced data protection safeguards, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations only ensure the confidentiality of patient records once they begin interacting with healthcare providers. All the information leading up to that precise moment is up for grabs, which Amazon could theoretically gobble up for its own marketing purposes. For example, you search Amazon for prescriptions related to chronic heartburn, but ultimately decide against buying your antacid medication through RxPass — only to soon find a suspiciously targeted flood of Tums “Prime Deal” coupons in your email inbox to obtain.

[Related: Amazon’s layoffs will cut nearly twice as deep as previously warned.]

Unfortunately, the current state of America’s healthcare industry is such that patients are ethically stuck between a rock and a hard place. The US spends exorbitantly more on health care than any other wealthy country, only to fall behind in life expectancy. And the pharmaceutical equivalents of independent bookstores to divert your money are often scarce. Not to mention that trusting private companies with data as sensitive as health records instead of no better options could point to much bigger problems within the existing system.

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