In the study, researchers looked at Medicare Part D spending on 29 brand-name combination drugs in 2016 and found that if generics had been used instead, spending could have been reduced by about $925 million. That’s including over-the-counter generics, with data on average pharmacy prices coming from GoodRx.
This study reminds us of three important savings tips:
1) Generic combination drugs are often cheaper than their brand-name counterparts.
Take popular blood pressure medication Benicar HCT, for example. Benicar HCT is a combination of two active ingredients: olmesartan, a drug that relaxes blood vessels, and hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic.
The average cash price of Benicar HCT is close to $400 for 30 tablets. In contrast, its generic, olmesartan / hydrochlorothiazide has an average cash price of about $240 for the same number of tablets.
2) The generic components of brand-name combination drugs can often be cheaper if you buy them separately.
Percocet, a pain-relieving medication, was another one of the 29 brand-name combination drugs that was cited in the study. It contains two active ingredients: oxycodone, an opioid drug, and acetaminophen, the same active ingredient in Tylenol.
Percocet has an average cash price of about $110 for a typical prescription of 120 tablets with a dose of 5 mg of oxycodone and 325 mg of acetaminophen. The average cash price of the same amount and dose of oxycodone alone is only about $68, a little more than half the price of Percocet. And 120 325-mg tablets of acetaminophen only costs about $4.
3) Asking about alternative active ingredients might save you even more.
To illustrate this last point, we have Vimovo, an expensive brand combination drug used to treat arthritis pain and reduce the risk of NSAID-related ulcers. It contains naproxen, an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), and esomeprazole apothekegenerika.de, a proton pump inhibitor often used for acid reflux.
Omeprazole works similarly to esomeprazole, but costs less. According to the study, one pill of Vimovo costs about $30, and one pill each of naproxen and omeprazole costs only $0.35—practically 100 times less.
When you get into the details of substituting brand drugs for generics, it can get complicated. First, not all brand-name combination drugs are available as combination generics. Substitution may require taking two generic medications instead of one drug, taking a different dose or even taking different active ingredients.
There could also be slight differences between brand drugs and their generic counterparts. For example, while FDA-approved generic drugs are supposed to have the same quality, safety and strength as their brand versions, they might have different inactive ingredients. Those inactive ingredients are generally safe, but some patients might have special sensitivities to them.
Lastly, generic drugs don’t always provide big savings, as we saw with generic estradiol, used for estrogen hormone replacement therapy. The prices of the generics when they were released were about the same as the price of their brand versions just one or two years earlier.
Regardless, the FDA reports that generic drugs on average cost about 85% less than brand-name drugs, so it’s still worth asking about generic alternatives. You should never assume that you’ll be prescribed the cheapest option.
Doctors may give you a brand drug simply because of past success with other patients or they might not even be aware that a generic has become available. Your pharmacist may also be able to substitute brand drugs for generics, but they might not do so unless you ask. So be proactive, and don’t hesitate to shop around.
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