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How to Cut Medical Costs with Generic Drugs

The economy is suffering, but your health doesn’t have to.

Belt-tightening Americans are spending less time at the doctor's and less money on prescriptions overall.

A recent Wall Street Journal report noted a decrease in the number of prescriptions consumed this year; data gathered from market researcher IMS Health also shows that doctor visits decreased from last July to this July.

That could spell trouble for your finances: Allowing medical problems to fester or remain undetected can mean more expenses down the road. One way to save on medical costs? Choosing generic alternatives to prescription medications.


MORE PEOPLE ARE GOING GENERIC

“Regardless of the economy, the use [of generic drugs] will continue to increase,” says Martin A. Voet, author of The Generic Challenge: Understanding patents, FDA & Pharmaceutical Life-Cycle Management. “As long as discretionary spending is limited, the direction for sales won’t change. More generics are sold than name brand drugs.”

But this is only in terms of quantity, not revenue. At least for now.

Last week, at the Generic Pharmaceutical Association's Annual Policy Conference, held in Washington D.C., Doug Long, vice-president of industry relations for IMS Health, announced a decline in revenue (20.5% of all dollars spent on prescriptions are for generics), but stated that the percentage of generics substituted for brand name prescriptions continues to grow, according to the trade publication Genetics-Bulletin.

According to the GPhA’s annual reports, generic substitutions have been on an uptick for years. Five years ago generic substitutions accounted for 54% of drugs obtained by consumers. Today it is around 64%.

WITH GENERIC DRUGS THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Generic drugs run anywhere from 30-80% cheaper than their branded counterparts, says Charlie Mayr, spokesman for GPhA. “There aren’t many reasons a person shouldn’t select a generic drug,” he says. Generic drugs are identical or bioequivalent to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, quality and performance characteristics, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s official website www.fda.gov.

But not all brand name drugs are available as generics. As stated on the GPhA website, www.gphaonline.org, 8,730 of the 11,487 drugs listed in the FDA’s Orange Book have generic counterparts. The primary reason for the discrepancy is patent protection, which can last up to 25 years. “Over the years, the generic companies have come to challenge just about every drug patent, not just the big drugs,” says Voet.

“The [limits on patents] and the means of challenging them has been a driving force for the generics,” he says. “If a patent is challenged and the generics company is successful in proving their case, they get six months exclusivity on the drug. They lower the price a bit but still make huge profits.”

Some drugs, however, have yet to be replicated because their patents are still in-tact.

And generics may not be for everyone, so it is important to consult your physician if you are considering a switch. “People are very individualistic when it comes to drugs," says Voet. “It’s not fair to say generics lack quality, but occasionally there are differences in terms of the formulation.”

Question: If your physical health is suffering like our economy, how will you respond? Are you considering switching to generic drugs?

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