Amazon Jumps Into Healthcare Business With Purchase of PillPack

PillPack is designed to serve people who manage multiple medications. Each month, customers receive a personalized roll of pre-sorted medications, along with a convenient dispenser and any other medications that cannot be placed into packets, like liquids and inhalers. Each shipment includes a medication label that has a picture of each pill and notes on how it should be taken. Courtesy of Pillpack

Amazon has agreed to buy the online pharmacy startup PillPack, jumping into the health care business with a deal that will give the retail giant an immediate nationwide drug network.

The move represents a formidable threat to pharmacy chains including Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., which earlier Wednesday reported tepid U.S. same-store sales, and rival CVS Health Corp. Walgreens shares dropped roughly 10 percent, while CVS shed nearly 9 percent in premarket trading in New York.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2018, according to a statement from the companies.

PillPack sells pre-sorted packets of prescriptions drugs, delivering them to customers in their homes. Importantly for Amazon, the company already has mail-order pharmacy licenses in all 50 U.S. states, which could enable Amazon to expand quickly into the broader mail-order pharmacy business.

PillPack also has relationships with most major drug-benefit managers, including Express Scripts and CVS’s drug-benefit unit. The company said it also works with most Medicare Part D drug plans. Those ties will give it links to much of the prescription drug market in the U.S.

PillPack, which is closely held, also has software that automates many routine pharmacy tasks, such as verifying when a refill is due, determining co-pays, and confirming insurance. That eliminates much of the manual work that pharmacists often are saddled with now.

The pact follows months of speculation about Amazon’s plans to get into the pharmacy or drug-distribution business. Despite the retailer’s vast reach, getting into prescription drugs presented a daunting logistical challenge in terms of licensing and dealing with a range of private and government payers. Acquiring PillPack’s networks helps Amazon surmount those hurdles.

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SOURCE: Bloomberg, Robert Langreth