When economic times aredifficult, people turn tocost-saving measures tostretch their money. When it comesto health care, Americans are delayingcare or going for needed medical tests.Pharmacists across the country canshare heartbreaking stories of patientsskipping doses or cutting pills in halfto make their medicines last longer.We all know that resorting to thesemeasures harms patient health, but,sometimes, these patients feel theyhave no other choice.
Or do they? The fact is that countlessAmericans can save money whilestill receiving quality care by switchingfrom brand drugs to generic medicines.Thankfully, millions ofAmericans already knowthis, which is why 65% ofprescriptions are filledwith generics. Barriersstill exist, however, thatkeep generic medicinesfrom coming to the marketplacein a timely fashion.Moreover, for thosepatients who are takingbiopharmaceutical medicines for lifethreateningillnesses, such as heartdisease and cancer, there are simplyno generic alternatives available. Why?Congress has yet to pass an approvalpathway for safe and affordable biogenericmedicines.
As the economic tide continues tospiral downward, Congress will beunder considerable pressure to breakdown barriers to access generic medicinesas well as pass biogenerics legislationin 2009. The need for congressionalaction is particularly critical forsenior citizens, who often find theyare taking multiple medications thatwreak havoc on their limited financialbudgets.
In the fall, AARP released the "RxWatchdog Report: Trends in ManufacturingPrices of Specialty PrescriptionDrugs Used by MedicareBeneficiaries" study. The researchoffered dramatic evidence on whyCongress needs to eliminate barriersto access and also give the FDA theauthority to create a pathway for biogenericsto address escalating MedicarePart D prescription prices.
The report found that manufacturerprices for the specialty drug productsmost widely used by Medicare beneficiariesrose 7.9% in 2006 and 8.7% in2007, nearly 3 times thenational rate of inflationover the 2-year period.For an individual whotakes a specialty prescriptionfor a chroniccondition, the averageincrease in the drug usedto treat that conditionrose by almost $5800between 2004 and 2007.
Although single-source brand productsaccounted for over half (52.8%) ofnonspecialty prescriptions dispensedthrough Medicare Part D, they consumed89.8% of expenditures. Thiscompares with generics, which represented44.2% of the Part D nonspecialtyprescriptions, but consumed just 6.2%of expenditures. Clearly, generics contributeto increased savings, access,and improved health care.
When it comes to biologics, the 31biologics noted in the AARP reporthad an average daily cost of $93.24,amounting to >$34,032 per patientper year. The cost of a 1-year supplyof Procrit (epoetin alfa) increased$27,000 during the study's 4-year period;Humira (adalimumab) increased$17,000; Levonox (enoxaparin sodiuminjection) by $9000. Without competitionfrom biogeneric medicines, therecan be no hope of relief for patientswho need these and many other biologicproducts, and who have seendouble-digit price increases, in somecases by >50%.
Increasing access to generics undoubtedlycan help our nation's seniorsobtain the medicines they need to leadhealthy lives. A recent Medco studyindicated that generic medicines canprovide a "life jacket" to keep seniorsfrom falling into the Medicare prescriptiondrug doughnut hole. The studyfound that upon reaching the doughnuthole, Medicare beneficiaries increasedtheir use of generics to 71%, and cut theuse of branded drugs to 29%.
The study also found that Medicarebeneficiaries prescribed statins arenearly twice as likely to abandon theirmedications when they reach the"coverage gap" than when the costsare covered. Furthermore, MedicarePart D recipients using branded statinswere most at risk because theyare more likely to stop taking theirmedications than those using a genericmedicine.
In these trying economic times, it iscritical that access to safe, effective, andaffordable generics be strengthened.The generic pharmaceutical industryis committed to working with the newCongress and the new administrationin helping seniors and all Americansreceive greater access to generic andbiogeneric medicines.