Amazon Pharmacy recently registered trademarks in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom but has not announced its stated plans for these registrations. For those of you who did not know that there is an Amazon Pharmacy, now you do. Amazon acquired online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 as part of its push into pharmaceutical sales. Pillpack specializes in the delivery of prescription drug orders in specially-tailored packages to meet the individual needs of patients. In its own words: “Our claim to fame is delivering medications pre-sorted into packets by time of day. And we’re very good at that.” As of the end of last year, Amazon began branding PillPack-related information with “Amazon Pharmacy.” Also noteworthy is that prior to its acquisition of PillPack, Amazon started to quietly obtain wholesale pharmacy licenses.
So, what does this have to do with Americans getting cheaper meds?
Last year, I recommended Jeff Bezos and Bernie Sanders team up to support prescription drug importation to lower drug prices. I was essentially trying to infuse some humor into the debate about importation by calling on these seemingly different public personas— the ultimate capitalist, tech entrepreneur and the Leftwing, self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist – to join forces and fight Big Pharma. On the other hand, what I am proposing is quite practical: Amazon lobbying to change the drug importation rules so that its wholesale pharmacies can import lower-cost brand name drugs from Canada, the United Kingdom, countries of the European Union and others. Amazon could do/ so by supporting Senator Sanders’s bill – The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act. The FDA is already opening the door here to expand on what is permitted under current law though the rule making process.
In my article, I also recommended that Amazon set up retail online pharmacies for international dispensing. Another way of looking at this is that PillPack, which is currently domestic-only, become international. It could process orders filled by licensed pharmacies in Canada and the UK, for instance, as partner pharmacies or ones acquired by Amazon. Of course, this is already done via international online pharmacies – although without the permission of the FDA.
Amazon has the muscle to obtain FDA permission!
Amazon Pharmacy’s trademark expansion into other markets, coincidentally, corresponds to countries with pharmacies that already service U.S. patients: Canada, Australia and the UK. This network of English-speaking countries, with strong pharmaceutical and pharmacy regulations, is home to pharmacies that already serve American customers through personal drug import pharmacy benefit options, ones offered by hundreds of self-insured municipal governments, unions and other organizations. Many PharmacyChecker-accredited online pharmacies also process orders filled by pharmacies in those countries. These programs are frowned upon by the FDA, as I wrote about last year in The Nation. Of course, that disdainful look is due to pharmaceutical industry lobbying of Congress and the FDA. I believe Amazon could turn that frown upside down!
It’s most likely that Amazon seeks to offer pharmacy services in those other countries and that’s the reason behind its trademark move. PillPack is still simply a U.S. pharmacy. But who knows what that crazy leviathan Amazon is up to anyway…?