Published Online: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Private health insurance companies are following the lead of the brand name pharmaceutical industry by using sales tactics to encourage patients to save money with generic equivalents of their prescriptions. The companies are offering free samples of the drugs, lowering or waiving copayments for them, and marketing them directly to patients in their doctors' offices. Because part of the money-saving strategy of most generics companies is not to use such methods, health insurers are stepping in to help by such measures as installing ATM-like machines in doctors' offices that allow physicians to dispense free samples of generic medicines.

The aggressive campaign arrives as many branded drugs are coming off patent protection and face considerable openness to generic rivalry. In 2006 alone, an estimated $20 billion in brand name drugs will lose patent protection, including such blockbusters as Zocor (simvastatin) and Zoloft (sertraline), which are already available as generics. The health insurers are hoping that even a small shift to generic usage will reap large benefits for their bottom lines.

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