Increased Use of Generic Drugs Won’t Cut U.S. Drug Costs, Study Finds
Generic drugs are not a "magic pill" for reducing the country's drug bill, due largely to patent protections that restrict access to the drugs and a "lack of knowledge on the part of employers, insurers and providers," a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy has found, the Detroit Free Press reports. In a study examining 25 years of information about generic drugs, and backed by a $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, researchers set out to examine why "generic drugs are not used more" often. They concluded that "some of the most expensive drugs" are still under patent, with no generic alternative available. In addition, pharmaceutical companies "often" extend patents by "reformulating the same drug." Other study findings are listed below:
- The process used in determining generic "bioequivalents" to name brands has "improved greatly," making it easier to counter the argument that "generics are not a true substitute."
- Pharmaceutical companies making a brand-name drug now sometimes produce its "generic equivalent," or own the company that does, due to "significant restructuring" in the industry.
- Consumers will "generally" switch from a brand-name drug to a generic version if the generic will cost them less money.
The Press reports that providers are "encouraged" by drug makers to prescribe brand-name drugs but "urged" by insurers to offer generic medications. In an effort to increase the use of generic medications, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the largest insurer in the state, with 3.5 million members with pharmacy coverage, has launched an "aggressive" education campaign targeted at doctors, pharmacists and consumers focusing on the "safety and effectiveness" of generics, the Free Press reports. But Duane Kirking, the study's lead researcher and a professor at the College of Pharmacy, said, "If insurers look at [generic drugs] as a quick fix or the only way to reduce costs or control increases in costs, they are going to be disappointed" (Norris, Detroit Free Press, 10/11). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.