Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy

In this podcast I discuss two articles that I was reading today:

  1. Amazon Pharmacy. What does this show for investors – is Amazon a monopoly and will its stock continue to soar in value?
  2. How the new UAE law changes will affect expat parents – will the changes make a difference to expats in the region?

Articles referred to are linked to below and copied for your convenience.

  1. Tech crunch – Amazon launches Amazon Pharmacy, a delivery service for prescription medication

A little over two years after its $753 million acquisition of the prescription medicine delivery service PillPack, Amazon has finally launched Amazon Pharmacy, its online and mobile prescription medication ordering and fulfillment service.

Using a secure pharmacy profile, customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions and choose payment options all through Amazon’s  service. And in another small push toward wider healthcare services, and not just selling items (although, yes, the outcome is to sell items), users are provided with “self-service help” tools on Amazon’s portal, and they also have the option to speak to pharmacists over the phone for advice: “Friendly and knowledgeable pharmacists are available 24/7 to answer questions about medications.”

After launching its own line of over-the-counter drugs in 2019, this is arguably Amazon’s broadest push into the healthcare business to-date, one that could open very large, new revenue opportunities for the company, especially as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushes consumers both toward more remote care and using online channels for all their shopping needs.

Indeed, this is also more than just Amazon’s  continued expansion as a one-stop shop for medicine and wellness. For many consumers, shopping at the pharmacy and shopping for groceries goes hand-in-hand (and of course over decades, many standalone pharmacies have moved more into becoming like stores selling food, while those selling food also have pharmacy counters).

Having this alongside Amazon’s very aggressive and ambitious grocery and food play — which mirrors its drug strategy by spanning its own brands as well as those it has bought it, including Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods, Amazon’s own brand items, and physical Amazon grocery stores — gives the company a more complete experience, where shoppers can more fully replace their shopping needs using Amazon alone.

While Amazon Pharmacy looks to be a U.S.-only launch for now, it’s a global opportunity. Online pharmacy services are projected to hit revenues of $131 billion by 2025 worldwide. Prescription drugs, meanwhile, have been estimated to be a $904 billion industry this year, growing to nearly $1.3 trillion by 2025.

“As more and more people look to complete everyday errands from home, pharmacy is an important and needed addition to the Amazon online store,” said Doug Herrington, senior vice president of North American Consumer at Amazon, in a statement. “PillPack has provided exceptional pharmacy service for individuals with chronic health conditions for over six years. Now, we’re expanding our pharmacy offering to Amazon.com, which will help more customers save time, save money, simplify their lives, and feel healthier.”

In addition to the basic Amazon Pharmacy service, Amazon is rolling out special features for Prime members: Those subscribing to Amazon’s premium membership tier can receive unlimited, free two-day delivery on Amazon orders, the company said in a statement.

Prime members can also save on medications when they pay without insurance on Amazon Pharmacy — and receive the same discounts at 50,000 other participating pharmacies nationwide. The Amazon Prime prescription savings benefit can save members up to 80% off generic and 40% off brand name medications when paying without insurance.

Prime members can access their prescription savings at checkout and all Amazon customers will be able to shop for medications — including branded and generic versions and different form factors and dosages — and order them online.

Amazon is also letting customers compare prices with their insurance co-pay, without insurance or with the savings available through the Prime prescription savings plan to choose the lowest option. Amazon is also staffing a pharmacy service accessible at all hours so customers can get answers to questions about their medications.

“We understand the importance of access to affordable medication, and we believe Prime members will find tremendous value with the new Amazon Prime prescription savings benefit,” said Jamil Ghani, vice president, Amazon Prime, in a statement. “Our goal is for Prime to make members’ lives easier and more convenient every day, and we’re excited to extend the incredible savings, seamless shopping experience, and fast, free delivery members know and love with Prime to Amazon Pharmacy.”

The launch of the new Pharmacy service within Amazon is a blow to other discount prescription services like the publicly traded GoodRx  and companies like RxSaver and delivery services like ExactCare Pharmacy.

In August, Amazon launched its fitness tracker, Halo. The personal health and wellness monitoring and advice service includes a $64.99 wrist tracker and an application suite for monitoring health.

As TechCrunch noted, the service includes more than the standard health tracking gadget/app combo by taking a comprehensive look at various measures of health, including body fat percentage, as measured at home with just your smartphone’s own camera and the Amazon Halo app. Through the app’s deep neural network-based processing of uploaded photos Amazon can separate images of a body from its surroundings and analyze so-called body fat “hot spots” where it’s easier to measure body fat percentage. The app then generates a 3D model of a user’s body. Halo users can then use a slider to adjust their body fat percentage up or down to see what kind of impact gaining or losing body fat would actually have on their physique.

Taken together, a power Amazon Prime user who shops at Whole Foods, uses Halo and gets their prescriptions filled through Amazon Pharmacy is giving the company perhaps the most complete insight into their health that’s available.

Should Amazon roll out its Amazon Care service to consumers, the only part of the healthcare continuum the company wouldn’t touch would be catastrophic care. But given Amazon’s ambitions, it’s not impossible to envision a world where urgent care clinics or hospitals crop up with an Amazon logo on them too.

2. How the new UAE law changes will affect expat parents

A number of changes to the UAE penal and civil codes, announced on 8 November 2020, look likely to affect expat parents living in the UAE by amending various aspects of the law that apply to families.

“At the outset, we note that amongst the widespread coverage of the changes in the UAE’s laws, the official text of the changes has not been made available at the time of writing,” says Michael Kortbawi, partner at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP. “Nonetheless, these changes usher in a broadening of personal freedoms and equal protections, clearly showing that the UAE is taking concrete steps to establish itself the destination of choice for expatriates.”

Introduced as a positive step to align the country’s legal foundation with its commitment to tolerance, as well as to boost its status as an attractive destination for expats to live and work, we spoke to UAE lawyers about what these changes mean for UAE expat parents…

What do the changes to laws on inheritance mean for expat parents in the UAE?

“Until now, in some cases, if an expatriate died without a Will, the family of a deceased person would find that the deceased’s assets were divided as per Sharia law – which expats were not used to or did not usually favour,” says Michael Kortbawi, partner at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP.

“Previously, if a non-Muslim expat failed to specifically petition to the court to apply their home country’s law to their will upon their death, the UAE courts would apply Sharia law by default.” This would involve some mandatory rules of division of your estate between certain members of your family, which may not always be aligned with your wishes or what you would expect.

However, the new changes stipulate that, if you have not made a Will at the time of death, the inheritance would be dealt with according to the law of your country of nationality.

“With the announced changes, we expect the citizenship of the deceased to dictate how assets will be divided unless there is a written Will (which may itself provide how to distribute assets and which law governs its execution),” says Kortbawi. “Therefore, we expect citizenship, more than religion, to play a part in inheritance.”

“An exception however remains with respect to UAE real estate,” points out Ruksana Ellahi, senior associate at Al Tamimi & Company, “which shall continue to be subject to UAE laws, unless a Will has been registered in the UAE.”

What happens if the parent who passes away without a Will has dual nationality?

“The detailed amendments have not yet been released therefore it is still not confirmed,” says Ruksana Ellahi. “However, if there was a conflict in respect of the laws of the two countries, then there is a possibility that the UAE law and principles of Sharia would apply.”

Do these changes mean it is less important for expat parents in the UAE to make a Will?

Although it may seem that there is now less of a need to arrange a Will for expats living in the UAE, there are some key reasons why you may still want to:

1) You may not agree with the intestacy laws of your country of citizenship

“Inheritance generally take effect in one of two ways: (1) as per the terms in a valid Will; or (2) in the absence of a valid Will, as per intestacy laws [laws relating to the estate of a person without a Will],” says Kortbawi.

“Previously, if a non-Muslim person died in the UAE, the estate could be divided according to Sharia law. Now, with the announced changes, when such a person dies without a Will, the assets can be divided among his or her heirs according to the intestacy laws of the deceased’s country of citizenship.

“Intestacy laws change from one jurisdiction to another, and even in a person’s home jurisdiction, intestacy law may not align with what the deceased would have wanted. Therefore, it is advisable to have a Will to allow the assets of the deceased to pass as the deceased person intended.”

2) Making a Will makes things easier for your loved ones

Ruksana Ellahi from Al Tamimi & Company says: “Many non-Muslim expatriates living in the UAE are unaware that in the absence of a registered Will, recognised by the UAE legal system, the process of transferring their assets after death can be time consuming, costly and fraught with legal complexity.

“As a practical matter, access to the assets of the deceased individual is restricted. Assets cannot be transferred or be dealt with in any manner without direction from the local Court. In some circumstances, this can give rise to delays and financial complications at a critical time.”

3) It’s still crucial to arrange guardianship of your child

The importance of arranging guardianship for your child has also not been affected by the announced legal amendments so far. “Serious complications can occur when infant children are left behind and no guardianship arrangement recognised in this country has been put in place,” says Ellahi of Al Tamimi & Company. “In default, Sharia inheritance rules would apply to assets and it would be at the discretion of a local judge to choose the child’s guardian.

“Under UAE law, the father is the guardian of the child or children. In the event that the father passes away, the closest male relative on the father’s side of the family is appointed as guardian of any minor children. The mother of the children would retain custody, therefore the children may stay in her physical residence, subject to conditions such as her not remarrying. If a woman passes away in the UAE, then the father would remain the guardian and custodian of any minor children.

“The amendments did not specifically mention provisions for guardianship of minors or the issues surrounding guardianship and therefore it would still be advisable for parents to consider executing a Will and include guardians for their children.”

Will Sharia still be applied in the case of expats who are Muslim if they do not make a Will?

“If a Muslim dies in the UAE without a Will, Islamic Sharia principles as per the Personal Status Law will still apply to Muslims expats in the UAE,” says Ruksana Ellahi of Al Tamimi & Company. “The new amendments to the Federal Laws on inheritance will only apply to non-Muslim expats. However, we still need to review the official published amendments to be sure of the applicability of the new laws.”

What are the options for getting a Will for expat parents now and the approximate costs?

“Although the exact cost varies, until now it usually involved drafting costs (if being drafted by a professional service), translation costs (if registering the will at the local courts) and registration costs,” says Kortbawi. “Registering a will with the DIFC could cost anywhere from Dh5,000 – Dh15,000. Although registering a Will at the Dubai courts is generally less expensive, the text of the changes remains to be seen, which might allow for Will practices from home jurisdictions to be recognised in the UAE.”

Ruksana Ellahi of Al Tamimi & Company expands: “There are a number of options available to allow a non-Muslim to register a Will in the UAE. Wills can be registered with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD) or at Dubai Courts.

DIFC

The DIFC Wills Service Centre released new rules to allow non-Muslims to include all of their worldwide assets in a DIFC Will. The DIFC Wills Service Centre allows eligible non-Muslim individuals to formally register their English language Will according to the principles of testamentary freedom. This allows individuals to choose to dispose of their UAE or worldwide based assets upon their death as they see fit. The fees for registering a single Will in DIFC amounts to Dh10,000 + VAT.

Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (“ADJD”) has rules relating to succession and inheritance matters for Non-Muslims holding assets in the UAE. The new Office allows non-Muslims with assets in Abu Dhabi and other Emirates to have the option to distribute their estates as they so choose. It also offers flexible legal options, where previously there was inflexibility, to assist non-Muslim families in the event of death. The fees for registering a single Will in ADJD amount to Dh950 plus legal stamping fees, since the Will in ADJD needs to be in bilingual format.

Dubai

The Dubai Local Courts allow non-Muslims to notarise a bilingual Will before a Notary Public.

Does the change to the law alter the situation with regards to custody of children in the case of a parental divorce?

“Previously, if a Muslim couple divorced in the UAE, Sharia law applied to the divorce, division of assets, alimony, and custody,” says Michael Kortbawi, partner at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP. “For non-Muslim expatriates that divorced in the UAE, either Sharia law or the law of the home country applied instead (as per their choice), and in cases of differing nationalities, the law of the husband’s nationality would apply. Ultimately, UAE law would apply for any aspects that remained unaddressed by the foreign law.

“Noting that the actual text of the changes has not been made available, we expect that there will be a change in relation to children and custody in some cases. We expect that Sharia is less likely to apply as the divorce will proceed as per the laws of the country where the marriage took place, regardless of the individual’s nationality or religion. Therefore, in relation to children and custody, the law of the place of marriage will be relevant.”

Do the law changes impact expat parents in any other ways?

Michael Kortbawi, partner at BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP, says: “The recent changes cover multiple areas including cohabitation, consensual sex, alcohol consumption, and divorce. We expect that the changes could allow unmarried parents to legally share a home in the UAE and to engage in consensual sex. In the event of a divorce, the laws of the country where the marriage took place may apply.

“These changes are intended to enhance the well-being of all UAE residents. Expat parents will certainly benefit from these developments.”

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