As we get older, most of us rely on sophisticated, and often expensive, brand-name prescription medications to help us maintain our health and control the effects of disease. Last year, when the prices of most consumer goods continued to rise, the prices for brand-name medicines most commonly prescribed to the elderly increased by an average of 7.4 percent - about 2.5 times that of inflation, according to an AARP study.
Generic versions of popular drugs offer considerable savings, yet many seniors still pay more for brand-name drugs when they don’t have to. On average, Medicare Part D participants pay nearly six times more out of pocket for a brand-name drug than for its generic equivalent, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report.
For most people, the generic version of a drug works just like the brand-name, is the same or comparable in quality, strength and purity, and must meet the same quality and safety standards. They are medically indistinguishable from the original and can cost up to 80 percent less.
Despite the savings that generic drugs offer, nearly two-thirds of prescriptions initially filled by patients with Medicare were for brand-name medications, even though generic versions of the drugs were available, according to a study by Medco Health Solutions, Inc. These figures suggest that consumers are still more comfortable taking medicines from the original manufacturer, even though they cost more.
The study found that seniors were more likely to ask their pharmacist for the lower-cost generic medications when they reached the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap in which they must pay 100 percent of their drug costs. However, when seniors exited the coverage gap and were again covered by Medicare, 59 percent of prescriptions were filled with brand-name drugs.
Some people believe brand-name drugs work better than generics, even though they have the same active ingredients. The aversion to using a “no name” drug or the belief that the brand-name is the “real” medication may prevent consumers from asking their doctor about a generic alternative. Research also shows that doctors often don’t talk about the potential cost savings of generic drugs.
Seniors who choose lower-cost generic versions over brand-name drugs can delay their entry into the coverage gap. Even when a brand-name drug is covered by a prescription drug plan, its co-payment, that is, the fixed amount you agree to pay under your plan, is higher than that of a generic drug. By talking to your doctor or pharmacist about generic equivalents, you can save money on both the costs of your prescriptions and your co-payments.
In addition to asking for lower-cost generics, there are also federal and state programs to provide extra help with prescription drug costs to Ohioans who meet specific requirements. Contact your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 to learn more.
Ohio’s Best Rx can help older Ohioans save an average of 33 percent on prescriptions, depending on the medication. Any Ohio resident age 60 or older and lacking prescription insurance is eligible and can access the program immediately by using the reverse side of their existing Golden Buckeye card. Call toll-free 1-866-923-7879 or visit OhioBestRx.org to learn more about the program, look up drug prices, find participating pharmacies and more.