That’s why Amazon’s automatic coupons for more than 15 insulin and diabetes care brands — announced Tuesday — is groundbreaking for consumers, experts say. When consumers look up their diabetes medication on Amazon Pharmacy, the platform will show the price of the medication with or without insurance and if there are any coupons from manufacturers available. The coupons will then be automatically applied at checkout. Manufacturer coupons are offered by companies that develop products and can be used in a store or online.
Amazon’s automatic coupons are available for products like insulin vials, pens, continuous glucose monitors and pumps from Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, Sanofi, Dexcom and Insulet. With the coupons, insulin products are available starting at $35 a month. Amazon was already offering some automatic coupons for items like weight loss medications and EpiPens.
Manufacturer coupons have long existed, but the process for getting the coupons has historically been “cumbersome,” like requiring consumers to download paperwork from manufacturers’ websites, said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. About 85% of manufacturer coupons aren’t used.
“This is a big problem,” Gupta said in an interview. “We don’t talk enough about this as a problem. But this is a huge source of frustration.”
That’s why the company decided to roll out the automatic coupons. Amazon Pharmacy also launched RxPass in January, which aims to reduce costs for consumers by offering access to more than 50 generic drugs for $5 a month to Prime members. While RxPass focuses on generics, the automatic coupons focus on brand drugs.
The automatic coupons differ from what other discount prescription drug companies like GoodRx are doing because of Amazon’s scaling capabilities, one expert said.
“If Amazon Pharmacy can deliver against the level of intelligent automation it indicates, given its ability to scale, this will be a huge benefit to healthcare consumers in terms of time, effort and dollars saved,” said Beth Mosier, director in West Monroe’s healthcare & life sciences practice.
“In other words, Amazon’s ability to scale to other conditions, therapeutics and use cases will be hard to compete against if their intelligent automation models are accurate,” she added. “Amazon has the ability to automatically make recommendations whereas GoodRx relies on consumers needing to do a bit of research. This automation can bring a level of confidence to the healthcare ecosystem that has been hard to find in recent years.”
The automatic coupons solve a major problem for consumers with diabetes, said Charles “Chuck” Henderson, CEO of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
“Diabetes is the most expensive chronic illness in the U.S. and our community has paid the price,” he said in an email. “The ADA has long fought for transparency in the drug pricing system, and we believe this program will be a valuable tool for those living with diabetes trying to access this life-saving drug. We want those in the diabetes community to be able to make informed decisions about their diabetes care and medication costs and we applaud Amazon Pharmacy for this announcement.”
Mosier agreed, stating that the automatic coupon program gives consumers some peace of mind when getting their medications.
“People living with chronic conditions not only face the added burden of managing their disease, but also the stress of managing the additional costs and daily activities associated with maintaining health,” she said in an email. “Through its automatic coupon program, Amazon Pharmacy is helping those living with chronic conditions, like diabetes, gain access to more dependable and less expensive products.”
She added that the automatic coupons will be a “gamechanger” and will save money and time for consumers.
Another industry expert echoed Mosier and Henderson’s comments about the automatic coupons, adding that the move represents a new position for Amazon Pharmacy in the prescription drug space.
“It is an incremental move, sure. But it also addresses a real pain point for the consumer,” said Christina Farr, principal at OMERS Ventures. “There’s a huge lack of transparency at the pharmacy counter around how much insulin will cost, and patients have been historically driven to extreme measures — including rationing — to afford it. Likely it also meant Amazon had to negotiate directly with manufacturers, which indicates they intend to be a mediator of sorts and pass on savings to consumers. Ultimately this will be most useful to the uninsured and underinsured.”
While Amazon’s move is an important step in bringing down costs for insulin and diabetes products, more needs to be done, Henderson of the American Diabetes Association said. The organization is advocating for $35 insulin caps at the state and federal levels, and 25 states and the District of Columbia have approved legislation for insulin caps. The Inflation Reduction Act caps insulin out-of-pocket spending at $35 per month’s supply under Medicare Part D. Henderson also noted that Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Susan Collins reintroduced the INSULIN Act, which would enforce a monthly cap on insulin in commercial plans and “would be a major step in the right direction.”
Photo: Amazon Pharmacy