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Reports Show Move to Generic Medications Aid Ecomony, Saves Consumers Money

Feb. 11, 2010

Modernizing health care involves both improving access to quality care and controlling the cost of care. The use of generic prescription drugs is one way we can improve the affordability while maintaining a high quality of health care.


With rising health care costs and tighter spending budgets, even the smallest pill can tip the scale on spending. Consumers can take a “hands-on” approach to finding affordable methods of managing health care costs such as finding a generic to their name-brand medications.


About one-third of Americans do not know or believe generics have the same effectiveness as brand-name drugs and two-thirds do not understand the true cost differences, according to a survey by Prescription Solutions, a UnitedHealth Group company. In fact, a brand-name drug costs 50 to 70 percent more on average than its generic counterpart – $120 versus $34 per prescription, according to a 2007 survey by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.


Often times, consumers will find that brand- name drugs and generic drugs have the same active ingredient, dose of the active ingredient, intended use, method of administration, strength, risks and side effects. The main difference is that brand-name drugs include cost of the research, development, testing, and patent costs built in.


A number of widely used brand- name drugs are losing their patent protection in 2009 and 2010 At the same time the potential for federal funding that would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to accelerate approvals of generic drugs is increasing. As a result, consumers should be informed of options that could potentially lower their health care costs.


The first thing consumers should do is consult with your doctor or your pharmacist. The FDA requires that the active ingredients in a generic drug be chemically equivalent to the active ingredients in a corresponding brand-name drug. However, not all brand-name drugs have a corresponding generic version, so your doctor may have an alternative recommendation.


The study determined that physicians and pharmacists are key to unlocking higher generic use, which could save the health care system additional money without sacrificing quality. Of those surveyed who do not take generic drugs on a weekly basis, 58 percent say they would if their pharmacist brought a generic to their attention as a less expensive, identical substitute; and 52 percent say their doctor would have to recommend it.


Contact your health coverage provider about participating in a pill splitting or a half tablet program. Some medications are manufactured in higher doses at the same cost as a lower dose. Prescriptions that qualify can split in half providing a large savings. Not all drugs are eligible for this but ask your doctor if this is an option.


Ask about the option to buy in bulk or order by mail as consumers can save by buying larger quantities. Ask to be prescribed a 90-day supply, which typically costs less per pill than a 30-day supply. If you have prescription drug coverage, check to see if a mail-order drug program is available and whether it would save you money before requesting the 90-day prescription.


Contact various retailers to find the lowest price, such as online pharmacies, mass-merchants or grocery stores in addition to the drug stores in your area and ask for the least expensive form of the medication. Prices for the different forms can vary so ask for the least expensive form for most cost savings.


Additionally, the survey notes that more than one in four people have delayed filling, not filled, or not taken as directed a prescription drug to save money. This is unfortunate given the relative affordability of many generic prescriptions today. By asking a few questions and taking a few simple steps, consumers potentially have tremendous power to lower their health care costs.


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