According to the results of the recent study, presented in the Annals of Internal Medicine, during the period from 2011 to 2017 Medicare could have economized $17,7 billion, if they chose the generic versions of older drugs instead of overpaying for the new brand products.
Here are some examples. During the period from 2011 to 2017 they have paid $13.4 billion for the Nexium acid reflux pill, while there is a cheaper version of this drug available, namely the generic of Prilosec. And the difference in costs would have reached $12,7 billion. In 2011–2015 Medicare spent over $832 million on Nexium. But if they opted for a Prilosec generic, the expenses will be cut by $690 million.
The figures are shocking, aren’t they? One should also highlight that the program is funded through the budget, so that is the money of the taxpayers, our money actually, and it is used in an inefficient way. Furthermore, currently the USA is experiencing serious difficulties with financing the programs like Medicare, since we are facing the problem of population aging: the number of elderly citizens is constantly increasing, and there are not so many citizens of employable age that can fund the budget. Sure, in such situations every dollar counts, not to mention billions of dollars.
Let’s discuss this disputable situation in detail.
Why do consumers and doctors opt for updated drugs instead of older versions?
As you have probably noticed, pharmaceutical companies tend to review their products once in several years and to introduce new versions that are supposed to be safer, to produce some additional effects or to offer some other advantages. The tactic itself is called chiral switching. And the updated products are known as single enantiomers.
Sure, in some cases revised medicines offer significant benefits to patients, for instance:
- the higher level of safety;
- the reduction in the number of negative side effects;
- changes to the duration of action and, as a result, more adequate dosage regimens can be worked out;
- the reduced inter-subject variability in response;
- the decreased risk of the negative consequences of drug interactions.
However, in some cases the versions of a drug are so similar, that it is difficult to see and feel the difference. In fact, some manufacturers introduce revised products for marketing purposes only. Such medications may offer no health benefits at all, while their price is usually increased.
What’s the hitch? As a rule, manufacturers present updated products close to the date when a patent on a previous version expires and generics are allowed to be produced. Obviously, they do that to preserve sales and to deflect public attention from the introduction of generic versions that are known to be much more affordable. In addition, when generics get available, the prices of older versions of medicines often go down.
One should also note that developing the new version of a medication that is already sold requires much less money, effort and time, so manufacturers experience no difficulties with presenting them in time.
Why do patients and authorities keep on buying brand drugs instead of generics?
First off all, we should find out what generics are. They are the versions of brand medications that have the same active ingredients and health effects, but they are not produced by the companies that have actually developed original formulas. In fact, after the patent on the original drug expires, a generic may be produced by anyone.
As you have probably heard, generics cost much less than original products.
There are several reasons for such a situation:
- manufacturers do not have to spend money on research and testing, they just copy products that have been developed by other companies;
- generics are produced without a patent, that also contributes to the reduction in price;
- they often come from overseas, namely from the countries with the lower level of salaries, for example, India and China.
Although there are multiple prejudices against generics, the FDA representatives claim that they are as safe and effective as original ones. They are also produced in adherence to rules and standards and are obligatory tested before distributing.
So, they can be arguably considered to be a suitable solution to the problem of high healthcare costs. The reduction in expenses of Medicare will allow the authorities to use the money saved to finance some other social spheres. In addition, the use of generics instead of original products will inevitably reduce the expenses of people who use the program. And, in fact, every American is likely to take advantage of it at some point of his life.
One should also highlight that, speaking about such programs as Medicare, we should keep in mind the fact that it supports millions of Americans, to be precise about 15% of the population, i.e. 44 million of people. And this figure is expected to reach 79 million till 2030. So, even if the difference in prices does not seem to be substantial at first glance, when we calculate the total saving, the result will be inspiring.
One should also note that you can switch to generics right now. In case you take any medicines and want to cut your medical costs, ask your doctor whether you can substitute your routine drugs with generic versions. In most cases the answer will be yes. There is a very limited list of medications that haven’t got generics so far.
However, if you decide to use this opportunity, be sure to take the following precautions:
- have a consultation with your doctor;
- tell him or her about all the drugs you are taking and all the health problems you are suffering from;
- contact your insurance company or other organization that helps you to cover your drug expenses to find out whether it is cost-efficient for you to switch to generics (it may surprise you, but sometimes generic medicines may cost you more, some insurance companies prefer working with the manufacturers producing original drugs);
- choose a trustworthy pharmacy and manufacturer, ask your doctor for advice;
- mind that generics and original products may look very difference, so be sure not to mix up the medicines you take.
In conclusion, we would like to mention that, taking into account the fact that today the USA is experiencing serious financial problems associated with the healthcare system, the government and authorities should take every effort to make sure that every dollar is spent in an efficient way. It is widely known that due to the peculiarities of the market Americans have to pay for their medicines much more than people from other countries. And there is a large number of patients that cannot afford to buy medicines even when the expenses are partially covered by insurance companies or governmental organizations. In some cases these drugs can make their life much better or even save it. So, if there are any ways to cut the costs and to make medicines more affordable, we should take advantage of it.