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GoodRx Co-CEO Applauds Amazon's Pharmacy Move

Nov.19 -- Doug Hirsch, co-founder and co-chief executive officer at GoodRx Inc., discusses his company's view on a move by Amazon.com Inc. to enter the retail pharmacy arena. Hirsch speaks on "Bloomberg Technology."

Video Transcript

EMILY CHANG: Doug, obviously there are some predictions this will be incredibly disruptive to your industry. You are one of the incumbents. What is your answer to this?

DOUG HIRSCH: Sure. You know, what's interesting is Amazon has actually had mail-order pharmacy for a number of years. They acquired PillPack back in 2018. And, you know, the announcement of a few days ago was really just sort of updating the PillPack experience to try to get more people to switch to mail.

The challenge is is that mail is really hard. Only about 5% of prescriptions in this country are mail, and that hasn't even gone up even in the pandemic. And the reality is is most people go to retail, and that's, of course, where GoodRx tends to play. We also work with Amazon to help them find discounts for pharmacy.

EMILY CHANG: So does that mean you're not concerned? I mean, GoodRx has, what, 5 million members? Amazon has 90 million Prime members in the United States. I mean, how worried are you that some of those, you know-- some of your customers who also happened to be Prime members might move to the other side?

DOUG HIRSCH: Sure. I mean, what GoodRx does is we help Americans find the lowest price for their prescriptions or for their health care anywhere. We've saved Americans over $25 billion. And, you know, look, I applaud Amazon's efforts to get into mail. It's not what we do. We are a marketplace. We find the lowest prices, and we send consumers there.

What Amazon announced was really an upgrade to their mail-order experience. As well, they also offered this discount card, which people seemed to misconstrue it as somehow helping you get discounts at their competitive pharmacies like Walmart and CVS and Walgreens. I don't actually think that's a crucial part of this. In fact, I don't think Amazon or Walmart, for that matter, would be happy if consumers were leaving Amazon to go to Walmart.

So really what we do is we provide this marketplace. We work with Amazon. We work with all the major pharmacies. We work with drug manufacturers to find the lowest price. Just as a point of reference, the lowest prices with GoodRx Gold, our subscription service, are lower 90% of the time than what Amazon Pharmacy's prices are today.

EMILY CHANG: So then how do you think this is actually going to change things for me who has to go to the drugstore to get a prescription filled? And that is not really convenient, especially in a pandemic.

DOUG HIRSCH: You know, I would-- it's crazy because you think at this point everything shows up at our house, right? I've got Amazon boxes showing up at my house every day. And yet pharmacy is so complicated. It's not as simple as just, you know, one click. I mean, you have to get the prescription. There's all sorts of contractual reasons where your insurance company may or may not participate. Generally they don't. You know, Amazon, for example, is only doing 30-day fills. So if you want a 90-day fill, you're going to have to go to your-- typically your insurance company's website.

The contracts and restrictions in pharmacy are so great, and I think they've been underestimated by many people. I'm old enough to remember, like, drugstore.com back in 2000 where they were going to revolutionize this whole thing, and the insurance companies said no, you're not.

And so I think health care doesn't work like other industries where it's, you know, sort of a common-sense industry. It can be very confusing and very restrictive. We're trying to unravel that. I think Amazon is trying to as well. But it could be a long time before mail is really a significant part of the overall prescription economy.

EMILY CHANG: Now, this is all happening as Congress is taking a look at Amazon over antitrust issues. Do you think that there are regulatory issues here that lawmakers should be concerned about given that they're making a lateral move into an industry where, you know, there's already concerns about how much power they already have?

DOUG HIRSCH: I mean, I don't really have a lot of vantage point into, you know, Amazon and regulation on that side. What I am focused on is overall government health-care policy which, you know, I think continues to fail most Americans. Too many Americans are uninsured. Too many Americans are underinsured and just simply can't afford the health care they need.

We work, actually, closely with governments to provide information about pricing so that, you know, political leaders can at least figure out how to solve this problem because, you know, we've been around since 2010 before the ACA came about. Then the ACA-- everyone said the ACA was going to fix health care in this country. It hasn't really done that. Americans still need help. And that's where we're trying to fill in the gaps with Americans.

And, you know, look, ultimately we want to give Americans any choice they need so they can get affordable, convenient health care. And, you know, we're friends with anyone who will help us get there.

EMILY CHANG: So where do you see then the innovation happening in the pharmacy business over, let's say, the next five years?

DOUG HIRSCH: So we're really excited about certain categories. I think telehealth is amazing. I mean, if you haven't tried telehealth-- you know, it's been around for a long time, and yet very few people used it. And then the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden it basically exploded.

I think for certain categories-- for example, mental health-- telehealth is here to stay. If I can see my therapist in an interaction like you and I are having right now, that seems pretty good compared to other options, and it can also potentially bring down the cost of health care.

I think there is room for a little bit for mail order. I think also we're finally seeing a lot of options where brand-- GoodRx has recently rolled out brand-saving solutions where we're helping people find savings on those massively expensive drugs, the drugs that are $500 to $500,000, where we're trying to actually drive people to solutions, also help doctors find solutions because the high cost of drugs is really people usually talking about those brand drugs which have just costs too much.

And we're really pleased at how manufacturers and pharmacies and everyone really is realizing they've got to do something because it's just not working and people are not taking their meds. And so we expect to see a lot of innovation around finding savings for brand prescriptions.