After years of flirting with the pharmaceutical industry, Amazon may be getting ready to pop the question and break into the multibillion-dollar market.
Though it’s not a done deal, the time has never been more ripe for Amazon to make its move, with insurance plan deductibles perpetually on the rise and more and more consumers paying for their own health care. The company has been dipping its toes in the pharmaceutical waters at annual meetings for the past few years, insiders said, and is finally ready to get serious about the market.
Amazon is now hiring a business lead and has brought in a new general manager to spearhead the effort. They’re already in discussions with industry experts, according to a source familiar with their plans. The company recently started selling medical supplies and equipment in the U.S. and is hiring for its professional health care program to ensure that the company is meeting regulatory requirements.
Amazon stands to make $25 billion to $50 billion from this opportunity if it plays its cards right. Money and convenience, however, aren’t the only gods to be appeased if this new offering comes to fruition. A less tangible, more noble outcome will be trust: the program could be one big red pill for pharmaceutical consumers.
“I think Amazon would introduce a lot of transparency to what drugs really cost,” said Stephen Buck, a health entrepreneur and co-founder of GoodRx, a service that promises to save consumers on the price of prescriptions.
U.S. consumers order more than 4 billion prescriptions per year. Americans spent an estimated $300 billion on prescription drugs in 2015. There’s no question it’s a lucrative market; the challenge for Amazon will be navigating new, heavily-regulated waters.
Shopping for prescriptions online won’t be as simple as placing the item in a cart and paying for it. There’s e-prescribing and prescription transfer laws to contend with, plus a slew of other players who’ve had a lot more experience in this industry than Amazon has.
But this isn’t Amazon’s first rodeo. The company often tests new ideas abroad before introducing them to the domestic market, and the pharmaceuticals program is no different.
In April, the Prime Now delivery service in Japan expanded to include drug and cosmetic sales. The program works with local suppliers and requires approval from a pharmacist before patients can make a purchase. Amazon also backed a 1990s online prescription ordering service, Drugstore.com, which Walgreens later purchased and then shut down.