Here’s What You Need to Know About Amazon Pharmacy

Prescription bottles sit on a counter. This photo goes with Amazon's unveiling of Amazon Pharmacy.
Photo courtesy of Amazon

When Amazon Pharmacy debuted in November 2020, it was touted as the great disruptor in the prescription fulfillment game.

And even though Prime members and non-Prime Amazon shoppers have the opportunity to save big on prescriptions and can order and receive their medications without ever having to get up off the couch, the disruption didn’t really materialize.

At least not yet. You have to remember it’s Amazon and the move into providing prescription services is not even two years old.

CVS and Walgreens still corner the market for brick-and-mortar pharmacies, and Costco joins Walgreens as the top-rated online pharmacies.

Even before it launched Amazon Pharmacy, the online retail monster bought PillPack and through them now offers pre-sorted, single-dose packs of a customer’s daily medicine. So much for filling that plastic pill box every week. The packets can even have the time of day the medicine is to be taken.

So can Amazon Pharmacy actually help you save money on your prescriptions? Well, it depends.

How Amazon Pharmacy Works

Amazon Pharmacy is available in 49 states (sorry, Hawaii) to both Prime and non-Prime members. Customers can transfer existing prescriptions over to the new online platform or ask doctors to call in prescriptions directly.

Amazon Pharmacy’s medications will include typical pills and creams, as well as refrigerated prescriptions like insulin. However, Amazon will not offer Schedule II controlled medications (i.e., opioids).

Here are some of Amazon Pharmacy’s features:

  • Upfront price transparency: Amazon Pharmacy allows you to compare the price of the medication between multiple drug companies, and you can determine the cost of each prescription if paying with your insurance copay versus using Amazon Pharmacy’s discount card without insurance. This gives you far greater flexibility than you would get at a traditional pharmacy.
  • Prescription savings card: Amazon Prime members can save up to 80% off generic prescriptions and 40% off brand-name medications when paying without insurance. Prime members can also collect these savings at 50,000 participating pharmacies across the country by using Amazon’s prescription savings card instead of paying with insurance. This card functions similarly to ones provided by prescription discount card providers like GoodRx and SingleCare, which offer patients significant discounts on prescriptions when they pay without insurance.
  • Free two-day shipping for Prime Members: Amazon Pharmacy is most advantageous if you are a Prime member ($119 a year), as you will earn free two-day shipping. But even if you don’t have Prime, you can still purchase your prescriptions through Amazon Pharmacy. Free delivery takes five days, but you can spend $5.99 to expedite shipping.
  • 24/7 customer service: Amazon offers online self-service as well as customer service over the phone with real pharmacists, 24/7.

Amazon does allow you to pay with insurance and accepts most major insurances. The price is likely to be comparable to what you would pay at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid as your copay, according to Consumer Reports.

Amazon Pharmacy accepts all major credit and debit cards. Customers with an HSA or FSA can input their card information to make purchases as well.

Before You Order From Amazon Pharmacy…

With e-commerce usage at an all-time high, you may be considering leaving your traditional pharmacy in favor of ordering your prescription from your couch. However, Amazon Pharmacy may not always be the best choice.

As with any pharmacy, the surefire way to make sure you’re getting the best deal is to call around. Many pharmacies can also do price-matching if you find a cheaper prescription elsewhere, so if you have a preferred pharmacy, you still may be able to save just as much with them than you would with Amazon Pharmacy.

Don’t forget about GoodRx and SingleCare, which also offer discounts at brick-and-mortar pharmacies. These could get you similar — or even better — savings on specific prescriptions than you’d get with Amazon.

Most importantly, before opting to buy a prescription without insurance because of the savings, consider your deductible. If you are on a high-deductible health insurance plan and would like to potentially meet that deductible in a given year, note that any money you spend on prescriptions sans insurance will not apply to that deductible, thus making it less likely you will hit the annual requirement to increase insurance contributions to medical bills.

Timothy Moore covers banking and investing for The Penny Hoarder from his home base in Cincinnati. He covers a variety of other topics, including health care, insurance, taxes, retirement and budgeting and has worked in the field since 2012.