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InterviewPharmaInterview With Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi from Honeybee Health

Honeybee Health is an online pharmacy that is revolutionizing the way that people get their prescription medicine. By cutting out middlemen and not taking insurance, Honeybee Health is providing a much-needed solution to the many problems with today’s chain pharmacies.

To learn more about Honeybee Health, we conducted an interview with Dr. Jessica Nouhavandi, co-CEO, co-founder, and lead pharmacist at Honeybee Health.

1. Can you tell us more about Honeybee Health?

Honeybee Health is an online pharmacy that provides generic prescription medications and supplements without the need for insurance and allows customers to choose their preferred generic manufacturer. We buy from FDA-approved, U.S. wholesalers and cut out the middlemen—like insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers—to offer generics up to 80% less than traditional pharmacies.

2. What regions does Honeybee Health cover?

Honeybee Health currently operates in 44 states and territories and serves tens of thousands of customers nationwide.

3. What are some common problems with today’s chain pharmacies?

The traditional pharmacy business model is very complicated. There are layers of middlemen that come between the pharmacy and the customer buying the medication—and each middlemen layer adds to the price so that they can get a cut. In some cases, the chain pharmacy and the pharmacy benefit managers are even owed by the same company.  The result is that chain pharmacies end up significantly overcharging for what should be affordable generic prescription medications. Often, the total markup added to a medication is as high as 4000%.

Additionally, big chain pharmacists are often overworked and overwhelmed. Driven by impossible performance goals and faced with long lines, it can be difficult for them to find time to consult patients.

Another issue is convenience. Long-lines, preauthorizations, and quantity limits can make a patient’s experience at a chain pharmacy unpleasant. This is of course exacerbated during COVID-19, when people are trying more than ever to avoid crowded, indoor settings.

4. How is Honeybee Health tackling the above issues?

In comparison to chain pharmacies, Honeybee Health has broken out of the system by not accepting health insurance at all. Counterintuitively, this allows us to offer significantly lower prices on generic prescription medications to our patients. We’ve found copays are often higher than the actual cost of the medication, leading patients who use insurance at traditional chain pharmacies to end up overpaying for their medications.

At Honeybee Health, we’re also able to keep a small-town feel and improve the amount of personalized care for patients. We started as a family business, and we have continued to carry that mindset as our company has scaled. When a patient calls Honeybee Health, someone picks up by the third ring. Patients have direct access to a friendly pharmacist who truly has the time to make them feel comfortable with their medications.

Another benefit of using Honeybee Health is improved convenience. Patients of Honeybee Health get to avoid long lines and get their prescriptions straight to the door. And, because we don’t work with any insurance companies or pharmacy benefit managers, there are no preauthorizations or quantity limits.

5. Does the pharmaceutical industry need to change? Can you elaborate on that? 

Yes, it does. Right now, PBMs are really the driving force behind all the volatile pricing. The industry needs to make sure that these middlemen aren’t taking advantage of patients. Until we address that systemic issue, it will be hard to drive down drug pricing.

The other pressing issue is that pharmacists should have provider status. Throughout the pandemic, pharmacists have played a critical role in COVID-19, including setting up testing facilities, distributing the vaccine, and in some cases even compounding hand sanitizers. Pharmacists are on the front lines across our communities and are truly the drug experts. Yet unlike physicians in the U.S or pharmacists in other countries (like Europe), we cannot prescribe. There’s a lot of research that shows the value of integrating pharmacists more fully into the healthcare system, and I hope this topic garners more attention in the coming years.

6. How many prescription medications does Honeybee Health provide?

At this moment we sell 6,000 medications that treat a range of disease states including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, depression, type 2 diabetes, and more.

7. Is it easy to order from Honeybee Health? Can you elaborate on that?

Yes, we pride ourselves on creating a very straightforward ordering process.

First, you need a valid prescription from a certified, U.S. doctor. To order, simply search for your medication on www.honeybeehealth.com to compare prices and manufacturers, in addition to selecting your prescribed strength, form, and quantity. Then, add your medication selection(s) to your cart and checkout. You can then either have your current pharmacy or doctor transfer your prescription to Honeybee Health. Once a team of pharmacists has verified that your order matches your prescription, they will fill your prescription and then ship it directly to your address.

8. How do your prices compare to chain pharmacies? What if the customer doesn’t have health insurance?

Since everyone’s insurance coverage is different, it’s impossible to say how we compare to a person’s co-pay at a chain pharmacy.

However, we can compare out-of-pocket costs (i.e. if someone does not have insurance). In fact, Honeybee Health was intentionally created for patients who either don’t have health insurance or have poor health insurance. For example, through Honeybee Health, the annual cost of the generic of Lipitor (atorvastatin) is around $84. A person paying out of pocket is estimated to pay $1,101 annually for the exact same medication (data based on the average retail price of atorvastatin).

9. What’s the secret to Honeybee Health’s low drug prices?

When a pharmacy works with insurance companies, they are contractually obligated to collect the copay—even though the copay may be higher than the out-of-pocket price of the drug. That’s why at Honeybee Health, we realized that we needed to create a new system, one where layers of middlemen weren’t artificially driving up prescription prices.

So, we cut them all out and purposefully chose not to work with them, including health insurance companies. Instead, we buy directly from FDA-approved U.S.wholesale distributors (which sell from manufacturers), allowing us to price the medications closer to their true cost. This means that customers using a pharmacy like Honeybee Health can save tremendously, often up to 80%—all without using insurance.

10. Where do you see Honeybee Health in the next 5-years?

Our goal is to become a one-stop shop for all patients, regardless of their disease state. Core to that goal will be expanding our product offerings with more non-prescription medications, providing controlled substances to more states, and entering all 50 states by the end of the year. I don’t want to say too much, but we’re preparing for a busy 2021!

We also hope to expand partnerships with like-minded organizations. Right now we have a couple of partners who are similarly focused on expanding access to healthcare, especially in underserved communities. Expanding these partnerships will continue to be a goal of ours in the next few years.

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