A top administration health official has called on the nation's community pharmacies to help spread the word about the savings available to older patients who take advantage of lower-cost generic drugs.

In an address to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy and Technology Conference, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark McClellan told chain execs that "it is extremely important for us to make sure seniors know about the availability of generics and the savings they can get from using them."

Although there have been concerns about the safety of generics in the past, McClellan assured chain pharmacy leaders that this is no longer the case.

When generics are "approved and regulated by the FDA, they are just as safe as the more expensive brand named versions and just as effective as well," he said.

This message, however, is not getting across to the nation's elderly, the Medicare chief said.

"While more than half of all prescriptions in the United States are now filled by generics, studies show that Medicare beneficiaries have been less likely than other Americans to take advantage of their lower cost and high quality," he told the chains. "We need to make sure that beneficiaries have the information they need to make an informed choice and to start getting those savings in many, many cases."

In urging community pharmacies to use the government's new Rx discount card program to promote generic drugs to seniors, McClellan told drugstore industry leaders that the government is "trying to help you provide the needed patient education by supplying specific information about generic drugs whenever they are available and the savings that people can get from using them."