Looking for a way to hold down your medical bills? Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about the prescriptions you take and whether you could be using much less expensive alternatives. Brand name drugs are heavily promoted through costly consumer advertising and physician marketing. Many common medical conditions are successfully – and affordably – treated with generic products. While generics are required by law to provide the same active ingredient, quality, and therapeutic value as brand name pharmaceuticals, the big difference is price.
Generic medications provide high value for patients. On average, consumers pay just $6.06 for a generic prescription at the pharmacy. The average brand copayment is more than $40, nearly 7x the cost out of your pocket! About 90% of all prescriptions filled are generics, but only account for 23% of all drug costs. A study by the Association for Accessible Medicine reports that in 2017 generics saved a total of $265 billion, a gain of $20 billion in savings over the previous year. As a taxpayer, you can also be happy that generic drug savings under federal programs included $82.7 billion under Medicare and $40.6 billion under Medicaid.
Older adults have received most of the benefit of the $265 billion in generic savings, with those aged 40-64 generating 45% of the savings, and those 65 and older gaining 35%. This is truly a bright spot for a segment of the population that has seen their health care expenses soar.
One additional advantage of generic drugs is improved patient adherence. The AAM study showed that patients fail to fill or refill brand name prescriptions at a rate 2 to 3 times higher than for generics. Consumers abandon brand name prescriptions more than 21% of the time (vs. only 8% for generics), meaning they never get the treatment intended. This may be the biggest loss of all to the value of pharmaceutical treatment in the country.
Biosimilars vs. High-Cost Biologics
Like generic conventional drugs, there are also a growing number of biosimilar products starting to compete with well-advertised biologic pharmaceuticals for conditions ranging from cancer to arthritis, hepatitis C to psoriasis. High-cost biologics are used by fewer than 2% of patients, but they represent 40% of prescription drug spend. FDA has released their action plan to increase competition through incentives for biosimilar development. Promoting research and innovation, the agency seeks to give consumers more affordable and effective options.
The FDA’s action plan outlines four initiatives to achieve this goal:
Improving the efficiency of the biosimilar and interchangeable product development and approval process.
Maximizing scientific and regulatory clarity for the biosimilar product development community.
Developing effective communications to improve understanding of biosimilars among patients, providers and payers.
Supporting market competition by reducing gaming of FDA requirements or other attempts to unfairly delay market competition to follow-on products.
Communication with your health care providers is your best consumer tool to receive the most value from your prescriptions and pharmacy. Once you understand all your choices, you and your doctor can decide on treatment that’s both cost-effective and that you can stick to. Choosing generics whenever possible puts you in good company!