The Continuing Need to Educate Patients About Generic Savings

Kathleen Jaeger, GPhA president and chief executive officer
Published Online: Saturday, August 15, 2009
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This year, the US generic pharmaceutical industry is celebrating 25 years of supplying patients with safe, effective, and more affordable generic medicines. Throughout this quarter century, America’s pharmacists have been integral to providing patients with information about the opportunity to reduce their prescription drug costs by using FDA-approved generic medicines.

The results speak for themselves. Last year, 69% of prescriptions dispensed were filled using generic medicines, saving more than $121 billion for the American health care system. Over the last decade, total savings have added up to more than $734 billion. And the savings will continue to grow over the next several years, as an estimated $90 billion in brand drug sales will lose market protection between 2009 and 2012, including such mega-sellers as Lipitor, Plavix, Singulair, and Viagra.

The National Health Spending Report, published in January 2009 by the Centers for Medicare&Medicaid Services (CMS), found that growth in US health care spending was at its slowest rate since 1998. The 4.9% increase in retail prescription drug spending represented the smallest annual increase since 1963. This deceleration of spending on prescription drugs was in part the result of “a further increase in generic dispensing rate,” the report concluded.

In April 2009, the AARP “RxWatchdog Report” found that manufacturer prices for widely used brand name prescription drugs jumped by nearly 9% in 2008, marking the largest average annual increase in 6 years and far exceeding the general inflation rate of just 3.8%. In contrast, the study found that the manufacturer prices of widely used generic drugs continued to decrease in 2008, falling by an average of 10.6%. The vast majority of generics (83%) did not change in price in 2008, despite an increase in general inflation. The AARP report found that switching to generic drugs whenever possible is one of the quickest and easiest ways to drastically reduce health care bills.

Confidence Grows, But Misinformation Exists

Increasing consumer confidence in generics was clearly demonstrated in a Harris Poll released in January 2009. The poll showed that, “in a period of just over 2 years, between October 2006 and December 2008, the proportion of adults who would choose generic drugs in preference to brand name prescription drugs has increased from 68% to 81%; and the number who would more often choose branded drugs has almost halved, down from 32% to only 19%.” The poll further revealed that 40% of those surveyed said they would “always choose to buy generic drugs over brand name”—a 17% increase over that group in 2006. Conversely, only 4% of respondents said they “would always choose to buy brand name prescription drugs over generics,” less than half of the response tallied in 2006. The Harris Poll concluded that the size of the trend toward lowcost generics, although predictable, was striking.

Although these results are gratifying, clearly much work still needs to be done to educate consumers about generic medicines. A recent Consumers Union report found that “accurate information about generics is not reaching the consumers who could benefit the most, such as those spending more than $50 per month on prescription drugs.” In addition, a number of newspaper articles and television reports, many promoted by special interests, have recently raised questions about the substitution of certain generic medicines. These misguided and incorrect reports persist despite 25 years of experience demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of generics, and despite the fact that, in 2008, 2.6 billion of the total 3.8 billion prescriptions dispensed were filled with generic products.

These misconceptions demonstrate the need for pharmacists to continue educating customers that FDA-approved generics are safe and effective equivalents to the counterpart brand drug. Pharmacists can communicate with confidence FDA’s position that, “if one therapeutically equivalent drug is substituted for another, the physician, pharmacist, and patient have FDA’s assurance that the physician should see the same clinical results and safety profile.”

Many resources are available to pharmacists to help answer patients’ questions. Just last month, FDA added a new site to its Web page entitled “Facts and Myths about Generic Drugs” (www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ ConsumersBuyingUsingMedicineSafely/Understanding GenericDrugs/ucm167991.htm). This information can be of great help to any customer wanting to learn more about generics. Information also is available on the Generic Pharmaceutical Association Web site (www.gphaonline.org). We must continue to educate consumers that FDA-approved generics provide the same medicine offering the same results, but at a lower cost than the brand pharmaceuticals they replace.



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