Amazon Pharmacy’s Discounts Might Be a Win-Win

Unless you’re CVS or Walgreens

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon Pharmacy will offer discounted prescriptions.
  • The service is initially available in New Jersey, Nebraska, Alabama, Florida, and Kansas.
  • Amazon won’t necessarily ruin local independent pharmacies.
Orage and white pills spilling from a bottle against an orange background.

Christina Victoria Craft / Unsplash

After establishing itself, Amazon Pharmacy is set to—surprise—start driving down drug prices. But is that really what we want?

Amazon's new scheme will give discounts to Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance customers in five US states, and—crucially—those discounted medicines will still be covered by their insurance. Discount drugs are a boon to users, and many people are already eligible through their health plans, but is this move by Amazon worrying for brick and mortar pharmacies? Or customers who rely on local pharmacies for advice?

"Pharmacies offer more services and support than just medication advice," attorney and legal healthcare consultant Irnise F. Williams, Esq told Lifewire via email. "Pharmacists provide an opportunity for patients to ask questions beyond medication like advice on the best prescription plan, savings, or suggestions for care if they are unable to find a provider. Pharmacists are up to date on the latest side effects, newest medications, and the benefits of medications that confuse many patients." 

Brick and Mortar

When Amazon Pharmacy launched in 2020, competitors' stock prices dropped. From Walgreens and CVS to GoodRx and Rite Aid, pharmacy-related businesses lost $22 billion in market value in one day, says Wikipedia. Nobody's going to shed a tear over those big names, but if prescriptions and other pharmacy services all go online, might we lose valuable local stores, the way Amazon has already destroyed local retail and even big-box stores?

An overview of the Amazon Pharmacy app.

Amazon

"While it is common to think that Amazon will cause brick and mortar pharmacies to shut down similar to what has been seen with some other retail stores, the pharmacy services it offers are more comparable to mail-order pharmacies than physical retail pharmacies," doctor of pharmacy Dr. Erika Gray told Lifewire via email. 

"This may cause increased competition in the mail order space for pharmacies that offer mail order services—Walgreens, CVS—but this should not have a significant impact on in-store sales at local pharmacies." 

And in fact, while pharmacies provide much better advice than just Googling your ailments, online drug shopping has all the same benefits of regular online shopping.

Hassle Factor

We all remember the bad old days of trying to return purchases to high-street stores before Amazon fixed that and forced physical stores to be more accommodating. Pharmacies are no better than any other stores in terms of the difficulties of dealing with petty problems. 

It's hard enough today to convince people that sometimes when it comes to pills, less is more.

"As a long time user of low-tech public domain drugs, the online suppliers are more patient, friendly, and helpful than in-store people," media professional and online pharmacy user Deaver Brown told Lifewire via email.

If you've used opiates over a long period for chronic illness, for example, your local pharmacist's insistence on telling you how bad they are can get old pretty fast. Just getting your medicine delivered is an appealing alternative. 

"After years of Luddite battles, my wife finally is getting her more serious drugs by mail and is astonished by the lack of hassle," says Brown. 

On the other hand, pharmacists give that advice for a reason. It might be annoying, but it can also be a valuable safety check.

"Platforms like Amazon Pharmacy can worsen the public's dependence on commonly abused over-the-counter medicines, including unnecessary food supplements and potentially habit-forming drugs," nutritionist Isla Zyair told Lifewire via email. "It's hard enough today to convince people that sometimes when it comes to pills, less is more."

Prescription pill bottles from Amazon Pharmacy.

Amazon

Fake Drugs

What about counterfeit medication? After all, Amazon's regular storefronts are rife with fakes and knockoffs. It's bad enough that some brands, including hippie sandal-monger Birkenstock, pulled their products from Amazon because of it. Thankfully, government regulation saves the day. 

"No, there will not be any problems with counterfeit medications through the use of Amazon pharmacy. Even though there has been controversy over Amazon selling fake vitamins, supplements, and other health/wellness products, all prescription medications are tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)," says Dr. Gray.

In the end, Amazon's move into the pharmacy world, and its new push into discounts, looks pretty good for the customer, with very few downsides. 

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