DECEMBER 01, 2006

More businesses are striving to get their employees to use generic drugs in order to keep of those overall health insurance costs down. With prices as low as 80% of those of brand name medicines, generics have become a significant means by which health insurers and companies hope to stave off rising medical costs. Some companies, such as smaller ones that use Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, have stopped charging any out-of-pocket cost or copayments to patients who use generic medicines. Other companies are taking on insurance plans that cover only generic drugs, such as a new prescription drug plan from Medco Health Solutions Inc.

Some are trying to steer employees toward certain brand name drugs that will soon go off patent and become available as generics in the near future. Over the past year, 4 of the largest blockbuster medicines have gone generic, and patents for at least 11 more are expected to run out in the next 2 years. John Malley, a senior pharmacy benefits consultant with employee-benefits group Watson Wyatt Worldwide, said, "In 20 years, we've never had an opportunity like this, in terms of so many generics available in such a broad number of therapeutic categories."