NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 19, 2008

Patients, physicians, employers and politicians all hail generic drugs as powerful treatment for a swelling healthcare tab.  But sometimes, patients and their doctors beg to differ.  In a number of cases documented in medical journals and recounted in interviews with physicians, a generic version of what is often called a "pioneer" drug simply doesn't appear to work as well for many patients, says the Los Angeles Times.


  • Currently, 64 percent of all prescriptions filled in the United States are for generics; that percentage is expected to rise steeply over the next few years.
  • In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved manufacturers' plans to market 682 new generics in the United States.
  • The agency still is working its way through a backlog of about 1,300 more applications from generic pharmaceutical manufacturers -- a tally that grows weekly.

At the same time, consumers are finding themselves constrained by their health plans, or lack of one, says the Times:

  • In 2000, 22 percent of American workers with employer-sponsored health insurance had plans that made no distinctions in their coverage of medications.
  • Today, only 6 percent of workers have prescription plans with such free choice, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts an annual survey of employer health benefits.
  • Kaiser's survey shows that more insurers are making more distinctions among medicines for which they will help pay and, in most cases, asking workers to shoulder a higher proportion of costs for drugs that cost more.

At the same time, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies and hospital pharmacies are trying to hold down rising costs by aggressively encouraging patients to use generics.  As generics move into Americans' medicine chests in growing numbers, two things are likely, say experts: There will be copycat medications that work differently -- and sometimes less effectively -- than originals; and there will be patients who do not respond as well to them.

Source: Melissa Healy, "Generics: Just As Good?" Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2008.


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