Health Insurance Matters: Pharmacy & Drugs

Health Insurance Matters / Harry P. Thal

Information abounds when it comes to healthcare and insurance. We have a client who has many problems with his teeth cracking and breaking. A little research discovers that Coumadin (generic name Warfarin) has a side effect for some people where their teeth turn grey and crack. The responses on may be anecdotal, but it is something you might want to discuss with your doctor.

What would cause CVS to have their stock drop 2.19 percent in one day? Rite-Aid lost 2.0 percent and even giant Walgreens was hit 0.90 percent? All this commotion over a little start up online pharmacy company called “PillPack.” PillPack’s business is built around customers who take multiple daily prescriptions. It offers medications in presorted dose packaging, coordinates refills, and handles shipments.

Amazon last month announced plans to buy the online pharmacy PillPack. The $1 billion cash deal marks Amazon’s latest push into the healthcare industry. In January, I reported that Amazon announced a collaboration with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway meant to reduce healthcare costs for US workers. Amazon is vying for a share of what is a more than $450 billion total U.S. prescription drug market, according to research firm IQVIA. Although PillPack expects sales to exceed only about $100 million this year, Amazon’s huge customer base and existing shipping infrastructure could allow the company to scale up quickly. With this purchase, Amazon will now be able to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, giving them the ability to offer cheap generic drugs even to customers without health insurance, according to industry experts.

The damage also spread through the pharmacy supply chain, with drug wholesalers seeing deep losses. Shares of Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Express Scripts all dropped more than 3 percent on the news.

On the subject of Amazon, I received a thick envelope from them last week. It was my book, Prescription Benefits – A Consumer’s Guide to Free and Discount Drugs. How long had it been? This copy was the second printing of the ninth edition, dates September 2003. Its been almost 15 years. Apparently, Amazon was clearing the shelves of unsold books. While I am certain most of the information in my book is stale and probably would require a much larger volume than the current 193 pages, I will never be revising the book. The prescription benefit plans it touts are still in existence, with many more now available for people with lower incomes and highly priced needed medications. However, this information, which changes regularly, is best dispensed via the Internet. When was launched, I discontinue the updating and publication of the book, as a better resource was then available. I have referred people to NeedyMeds ever since.

In thumbing through the book, I found many other chapters dealing with TriCare for Life for military retirees and purchasing medication through Canada. Wow, prices were cheaper back then.
Harry P. Thal, MA, is a licensed insurance broker in California (0621106) and 24 other states. His offices are in Kernville. He is a member of the Society of Certified Senior Advisors and Past-President of the Kern Association of Health Underwriters. He may be reached at 760-376-2100, e-mail or visit him on the web at