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Amazon prescription drug plan is ‘simplicity, affordability’ needed in pharma space: Doctor

Amazon Pharmacy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vin Gupta speaks with Yahoo Finance health care reporter Anjalee Khemlani about Amazon's new prescription drug plan, how it will work, and who it is meant for.

Video transcript

- Amazon is expanding its role in the health care space with the new subscription plan called RxPass. Yahoo Finance health reporter, Anjalee Khemlani here with more on this. Anj, this is a very exciting opportunity. This is a space that needs a disruptor, and it looks like they're on it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: They are on it. They may be more of an interrupter, if you listen to analysts.

- OK.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So, let's break down what they've done. It's a $5 per month plan, but only for Prime members. So you already have to be paying for a prime subscription in order to have this add-on. Then, it's a flat fee for any generic prescriptions that are on the list, a very specific list that they already have, and that will be delivered either monthly or quarterly for free based on what your subscription is. Prescription, sorry. And also it excludes insulin, which is a key treatment that we know like a lot of people need. It's something the government has been focused on, so very interesting that has been left out. But, obviously, it is a lot more complicated than just generics. Why?

Because we know-- Oh, sorry, also to point out the exclusions, no Medicare, no Medicaid. That's also a really important point. Now, we also know that generic space has been dominated by names like GoodRx. We got Cost Plus drugs with Mark Cuban. We've got Walmart that really started the trend with the $4 generics, what, 17 years ago now. So, this is not a new space, per se. What they're doing is actually allowing people to do a flat rate, flat fee for whatever they need. But, if you listen to my interview with the chief medical officer, you get a little bit more insight into what they're doing and who the target audience is. I spoke to him earlier today, Dr. Vin Gupta, and we talked about what this plan is, and the specifics of who it's targeting. Take a listen.

VIN GUPTA: I say this as a pulmonologist. I'm heartened by how patient-centric this program is. It's a $5 flat fee for any eligible medication that somebody may have a prescription for to treat one of many common chronic conditions that exist in the United States and worldwide. So chronic non-communicable diseases is really the focus of what RxPass we feel can provide a lot of value for, and hopefully improve health outcomes, and keep people healthy. But that $5 price point we feel is the right price point to provide value to our patients. To make sure that any eligible medications they may already be on that are prescribed for a condition like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, male pattern baldness, broad range of conditions that are applicable here. That $5 price point for all eligible medications. So, it's one flat fee as a Prime member benefit with included at-home delivery.

We feel like this is the type of simplicity, affordability, and value that, frankly, has been lacking in the pharmacy experience that's existed for so many decades up to now, both from a provider standpoint and from a patient standpoint, and we think this is needed to change. The pharmacy experience that exists today, and as a lung physician I interact with that all the time, it has not changed fundamentally in decades. Long wait times, it is not an easy experience to navigate as a patient, much less a provider to do. Good for your patients. And so Amazon pharmacy to your point, it is-- Number one, it's staffed 24/7 with highly qualified clinical pharmacists that are supporting patients across the country. So, clinical protocols are rigorously followed. We're making sure that prescriptions that are dispensed as part of RxPass or through our adjusted services are clinically relevant and indicated.

So that's important to really emphasize here. It's 50 states, free delivery to your home. And really there's different ways based on an individual patient's ability, or ability to say have durable insurance, or they're a unique situation. There's different ways to really intersect and pay for your medications. One is through insurance. The other is through your Prime prescription savings benefit. And then now today, RxPass, which we think will simplify how those who were on multiple medications for chronic conditions will experience care.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So, as you can hear, a lot of discussion about who, what kind of diseases are targeted, and the like. But there's also some interesting points there on who the target population is, what age groups, especially socioeconomic statuses because of that Prime subscription, but we also know that Prime is offered at a discount for people who have-- are on any kind of government assistance programs and the like. So there are windows there to help with equality of access. So, I discuss the age group as well, and here is what he has to say about that.

VIN GUPTA: We really do feel like for those individuals between the ages-- specifically between the ages of 40 and 64 years of age that might be underinsured that this will provide-- and are on multiple medications for chronic diseases-- that we think that this is going to provide disproportionate value for that specific group of patients. Having said that, if you're somebody that is 30 years old and taking finasteride for male pattern baldness, you will accrue savings, cost savings if you sign up for RxPass. Amazon, fundamentally, what I really admire about this company, especially as we explore what we can do in health and have impact is we take risks and we embrace innovation.

And we are trying to figure out the way in which we can maximize benefit to patients. And so, from my standpoint, what exists today, what exists today from a pharmacy experience standpoint is unacceptable. We can do better. And that's exactly what Amazon is trying to do here today with RxPass is trying to do better for our patients, and trying to provide disproportionate value by leaning into what Amazon has traditionally done so well. Price transparency, convenience, affordability, and then lastly, selection. Making sure that our formulary is as broadly pertinent to as many people as possible.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: As you can hear, really a lot on the table there. Obviously, still need to see how it fits in with all the other verticals they have. The absorption of PillPack, the subscription model they have, and then the acquisition of One Medical also in the works.

- That's a good look for Amazon in terms of just patient care and how they are caring about people. I know mental health is also a part of this in terms of Zoloft treating anxiety. Are you just-- are you-- I don't want to put you on the spot. How different is this than Mark Cuban's?

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: It is different, because this is a flat rate. So this is-- if you look at each of the drugs that are on the list, right? Half the cost of that is already in that $5. So you're basically getting a 50% discount possibly per month just by signing up for this.

- OK. I did put you on the spot with that, and you nailed it.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Well, listen, sometimes I like to know what I'm talking about.

- You indeed do. Anjalee Khemlani. Great interview. Appreciate that information. Important story.