On Using Generic vs. Brand-name Drugs

One of the guidelines recommended by Medicare for reducing the costs of prescriptions is to use generic drugs. This is especially relevant for individuals with Part D drug plans. Although generic drugs are not new, many people have questions about them.

What is a generic drug? When the patent runs out for a company to be the exclusive manufacturer of a brand-name drug, other companies can get FDA approval to make and sell a copy

Is the generic copy exactly the same? To get the FDA approval, the generic must contain the same active ingredient as the branded drug. It also must be shown to be bioequivalent. That means it should have the same therapeutic effect because it enters and leaves the bloodstream just as quickly and completely.

Are generic drugs as safe as brand-name drugs? The FDA regulates generics the same as it does brand-name drugs to make sure they are just as pure and safe. The FDA has found the rate of adverse reactions to be no different for generic drugs compared to brand-name ones. This also is true for brand-name drugs that have gone “over-the counter” and can be purchased without a prescription.

Don’t generic drugs look and taste different? Because of trademark law, generic drugs are not allowed to appear exactly like any other drugs on the market. They must be a different color, shape, or size in order to be distinct from the original, brand-name drug. Often the flavoring used in the brand-name drug will be different, so the generic will not taste the same. Remember, however, that the effectiveness of a medicine is not determined by its size, shape, color, or taste.

Are generic drugs being used that often? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently reported that almost 60% of the drugs purchased through Medicare drug plans last year were generics. The percentage of drugs obtained through private insurers rose is also over 50%.

How much can I expect to save? Generic drugs can cost up to 80% less than the corresponding brand-name medicine. That’s why many medical experts have advocated using generic drugs for a long time. In addition, keeping the cost of drugs to a minimum should have a similar effect on other health costs including insurance premiums.

NOTE: Due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act recently signed by President Obama, people with Part D drug plans who reach the coverage gap (“donut hole”) now receive a 52.5% discount on brand-name drugs and an additional discount on inexpensive, generics.

What should you do? Talk with your physician. Many prescribe brand-name drugs assuming the pharmacist will substitute the generic that will be equally effective.

If you need help with anything related to Medicare including your prescriptions or determining which drug plan is best for you, contact Partners For Transitions, 626-1943.

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