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Questions and answers on generic drugs.

Q. Why should I care what a drug costs? I have health insurance.

A. Everyone pays for higher drug costs in the form of increasing copayments or health insurance premiums. The choices that you make today will impact your premiums in the future. By asking for the generic version when you get your prescription, it will save you money directly. Many times generic drugs have a lower copayment or coinsurance cost than brand-name drugs. When you ask for a generic drug, you save money without sacrificing quality.

Q. What are the differences between generic and brand-name drugs?

A. There are two main differences between generic and brand-name drugs. The first difference is the name. The brand name is the name under which the product is sold and is protected by a patent for up to 20 years. For example, the company that developed acetaminophen gave it the brand name, Tylenol. When the patent expired, other companies began producing the same product and selling it under its generic name, acetaminophen. In many cases, the same company that manufactures the brand also produces a generic version. The other difference between generic and brand-name drugs is that generic drugs are not advertised. The lack of advertising helps keep costs down--think of generic drugs as the unadvertised brands.

Q. Are generic drugs really the same as brand-name drugs, or are they inferior imitations?

A. All drug makers must adhere to strict manufacturing requirements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to earn approval to sell their products. FDA regulations require that generic medications be made with the same standards of purity, stability, strength and quality as their brand-name equivalent. A generic drug must demonstrate the same chemical ingredients as its brand-name counterpart.

Q. What is a "patent" and how does it work?

A. A patent protects and establishes a company's right to produce and control a product exclusively. The patent prevents other companies from making and selling the product during the patent period. Drug patents can last up to 20 years. The patent is given because the original manufacturer has spent time and money researching and developing the drug.

Q. If both generic and brand-name drugs have the same ingredients, why do they look different from each other?

A. Generic drug makers are required by law to make their drugs look different from the brand-name products so consumers can tell them apart. This means the generic usually is a different shape and color than the brand-name drug.

Q. Why do generic drugs cost less than brand-name drugs?

A. Generic drugs cost less because the generic drug makers did not incur the same research, development, sales and marketing costs as the brand-name drug manufacturer. These savings are reflected in lower prices, which are passed on to the consumer.

Q. Does every brand-name drug have a generic alternative?

A. No. If a drug still is protected by a patent, it can only be supplied as a brand-name product by one company. When the patent expires, other companies may apply to the FDA to produce a generic version of the drug. Additionally, the original manufacturer usually will continue to make the brand-name product and a generic version, often using the same or side-by-side assembly lines.

Q. Why doesn't my doctor automatically prescribe generic drugs?

A. In some cases, generics are overlooked because of direct-to-consumer drug advertising, which promotes brand-name drugs and makes them the first choice for many physicians. Generic drugs are not advertised so people don't know how to ask for them by name. Another reason your doctor may prescribe a brand-name drug is that there may not be a generic equivalent available. It's important to talk to your doctor about generics if you currently are using brand-name drugs to determine what is appropriate for you.
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 18, 2003
Words:632
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