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Amazon launches prescription drug subscription service

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Amazon is adding a prescription drug discount program to its growing healthcare business.

The retail giant said Tuesday it will launch RxPass, a subscription service for Prime membership customers. Amazon said people will pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they need from a list of about 50 generic drugs, which are generally cheaper versions of brand name drugs.

The company said the flat fee could cover a list of medications, such as the antibiotic amoxicillin and the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen.

Sildenafil also made the list. It is used to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Viagra and also treats a form of high blood pressure.

Amazon sells a range of generic drugs through its pharmacy service. Some are already as low as $1 for a 30-day supply, so the benefit of this new program will vary by customer.

The program does not use insurance, and people with publicly funded Medicaid or Medicare coverage are not eligible. It will be available in 42 states and Washington, DC at launch.

Any program that gets more patients to get low-cost generic drugs is “a good thing,” says Karen Van Nuys, an economist who researches drug pricing at the University of Southern California. But she added that she wasn’t sure how much of an impact RxPass will have.

She noted that the program is limited to Amazon Prime customers. Other options like the Mark Cuban CostPlus Drug Co. sell more generic drugs, many for less than $5.

“I just don’t know that it expands access to a new set of patients,” Van Nuys said.

Still, the move could help the company take up some more space in the healthcare market, even if it hasn’t always succeeded in its intent. Last year, the company shut down its hybrid virtual home care service called Amazon Care after it failed to gain traction from employers. And Haven, a company Amazon founded in partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve health costs, was dissolved a year earlier.

Amazon has said its Amazon Pharmacy online drugstore is an important part of its health care plan, along with the primary care organization A medical one, which the online giant wants to acquire for $3.9 billion. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed acquisition.

In November, the company also said it would begin offering “Amazon Clinic,” a messaging service that connects patients with doctors for about 20 common conditions, such as allergies and hair loss.

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