Brand-name medications are expensive, but many seniors still refuse to opt for their cheaper generic equivalents. Tragically the people who are most affected by high brand-name drug costs are low-income seniors. According to a 2009 study, approved by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Institutional Review Board, 20% of low-income seniors use brand-name drugs even when the identical generic drug is available at a lower cost.
Seniors make up the largest consumer group of pharmaceuticals and are a rapidly growing demographic. Making the switch to generics would save billions of dollars for government healthcare programs, hospitals, nursing homes and seniors themselves.
According to the FDA, generic drugs are required to have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage form and route of administration as the brand-name product.
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The FDA approves all generic drugs, and they must meet the same standards as the original brand-name drug. In one paper cited by the FDA which compared 38 clinical trials, “there was no evidence that brand-name heart drugs worked any better than generic heart drugs.”
Another study revealed that “the difference for the generic-to-brand comparison was about the same as the brand-to-brand comparison.”
In terms of cost, the difference is huge. According to the Pharmacy Times, the average price of a generic prescription drug was $28.87, while the average price of a name-brand prescription drug was $95.01. Name-brand medications make up just 44% of all prescriptions, but 87% of all dollars spent on prescriptions.
In terms of the active compounds in generic drugs, there is often no difference whatsoever. That’s right, zero. In fact, many companies license their brand-name drugs to be sold as generics. Those that don’t, still only hold a patent for about 20 years. When you factor in the time it takes to finish testing and approving the drugs, the patent on the medication is available for a fraction of that time.
The FDA also issues exclusivity periods during which time only one company can manufacture the drug. New drugs may be subject to a patent, exclusivity period or both (or neither).
Once a patent or exclusivity period expires, any company can make that drug. This is the reason there are so many generic drugs. Often one expired patent can lead to as many as a dozen generics options. Take Capoten, an ACE inhibitor that helps widen blood vessels and make it easier for the heart to pump blood, as an example. When the patent for Capoten expired, the FDA approved 13 to 14 generics in a matter of days.
These generic drugs not only have the same active ingredients, but according to the FDA, many generic drugs are made in the same manufacturing plants as name-brand drug products.
The use of generics is already saving about $3 billion per week in America. Generic drugs do not need to pay for the expensive research and development, marketing, approval and sales costs that drive up the price of brand-name drugs. The added competition of generic drugs will also push prices down, as generics look to compete with one another while still meeting the FDA’s strict regulations.
Are you hesitant to use generic drugs instead of brand-name drugs? Share your reasons and personal experiences with us in the comments below.