“Billions wasted on pricey drugs” was the headline in the newspaper this week. Medicare claims that the program is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars because doctors continue to prescribe and patients continue to ask for pricey name brand drugs when cheaper generic drugs are available.
I agree that this is a major problem which needs to be addressed. My own medical group is working hard and with good success to change the prescribing habits of doctors to use the more reasonably priced generic drugs whenever possible.
What exactly are generic drugs? They are copies of brand name drugs which have the same dosage, side effects, intended use, risks, strength and safety of the brand name drug. In other words, the brand name drug and the generic version of it should be identical.
The generic version of a drug can be manufactured and sold once the patent on the brand name drug has expired. The generic costs much less than the brand name drug mainly because the generic manufacturers don’t have to duplicate the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on research, development and marketing conducted by the original manufacturer.
There is concern by many that generic drugs are cheaper because of a compromise in quality or effectiveness. However, the Food and Drug Administration requires that generics be as safe and effective as the brand name drug. The generic must be bioequivalent to the name brand product, which means that the amount of active ingredient is delivered to the body at the same time, and used in the body in the same way as the brand name. The generic will often be a different color, shape or flavor than the brand name and it also may have different inactive ingredients, but the active ingredients must always be the same.
There are a few classes of drugs, such as anti-seizure medications, thyroid hormone replacement, and blood thinning drugs, where it is best not to switch back and forth between generic and brand name versions. Your doctor can explain this in more detail.
Since nothing in life seems perfect, I recognize that there may be instances where a generic version of a drug just doesn’t seem to work as effectively as its brand name equivalent. This needs to be discussed with your doctor and dealt with appropriately since the number one issue in the doctor patient relationship should be: What’s best for the patient?
Patients do, for the most part, have a choice of generic versus name brand drugs, but must realize that both private and public insurance plans may not pay for the non-generic or will require a higher co-pay, thus increasing the out of pocket cost of the drug. Feel free to discuss this with your doctor and pharmacist.