Healthcare in America is notorious for being expensive. Consumers trying to navigate the system often find themselves paying huge bills that they can’t afford, unable to understand why their medical treatment costs more than their mortgage.
This struggle is especially real for those of us who take prescription medications. Name-brand drugs can cost hundreds, if not thousands, every single month. Fortunately, many of these prescription medications have generic options available.
Are you ready to start making better-informed decisions about your health? If so, keep reading for an in-depth look at the generic vs brand name drugs debate.
What Is a Generic Drug?
When you shop at the mall, grocery store, or online, off-brand products are everywhere. They’re almost the same as the branded versions but cost a lot less money.
Generic drugs follow the same principle. The actual drug and its packaging might look a bit different than the brand you’re used to, but they claim to have the same results. In fact, you might be familiar with a few common generic drugs already.
Two of the most common NSAID pain relievers, Advil and Tylenol, are available in generic forms as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If you’re diabetic, you might fill your Metformin prescription with the generic variety Glucophage. And people suffering from heartburn often substitute omeprazole for the costlier Prilosec.
Have you ever compared the prices of prescription and OTC medications? If so, you’ve probably noticed a large difference between branded and generic ones. But if they claim to do the same thing, what’s the reasoning behind their price tags?
Generic Vs Brand Name Drugs: What’s the Difference?
What is the actual difference between generic and name-brand medications? Other than the cost, according to the FDA, not a whole lot. To meet FDA approval, generic drugs must:
Be Pharmaceutically Equivalent
The drug must be the same kind of product (pill, liquid, injection, etc.) as the original. It also has to be released in the same time frame.
Have Identical Active Ingredients
The active ingredient needs to be the same as the name brand. It also must be released into the bloodstream in the right amounts.
Be Shelf Stable
The generic shouldn’t break down faster than the branded version.
Have an Identical Label
The drug information label has to be the same as the name brand’s, except for copyrighted information.
The difference between generic and brand name drugs is mostly in the inactive ingredients. Because generic companies aren’t allowed to produce an exact copy of the brand name drugs, they have to change the composition just enough to avoid any patent infringement.
The FDA requires that all inactive ingredients are tested for safety before approving generic drugs. They also make sure that the manufacturer can make, package, and ship the drug in a safe and consistent way. So while it isn’t fair to say that generic drugs are exactly the same as their brand name counterparts, they are similar enough to have the same effect in most cases.
Why Are Medications So Expensive in America?
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection often caused by contact with cat feces (usually from cleaning the litterbox). It only causes flu-like symptoms in most people, but for those with a compromised immune system from HIV or other diseases, it can be fatal. Treatment for toxoplasmosis in the UK is accessible for the USD equivalent of only a few dollars per pill.
In the United States, that same pill—known as Daraprim—will cost you $750. Worse yet, because there’s no generic form of the drug, you can’t find a similar treatment for less.
While the Daraprim scandal is an extreme example, Americans can often expect to pay three times the amount for life-saving medications as our neighbors across the pond. There are quite a few reasons for this, but the lack of market competition between brand name companies and no governmental price caps are much to blame. Many American pharmaceutical companies also protect their drugs with layers of patents that keep anyone else from making a similar product, allowing them to hike prices as high as they want.
Identical medications are so much cheaper in other countries that some Americans have started buying them from across the border. Caravans traveling to Canada or Mexico to buy insulin, especially, are increasing in number. But traveling overseas to buy medicine isn’t entirely legal, and customs agents will limit you to carrying a 90-day supply of a drug at a time.
Thankfully, you don’t have to travel across the border to find the meds you need for an affordable price. Click for more information on how to save money by purchasing your medications internationally via the internet.
What Makes Generic Drugs Less Expensive?
When you buy a name-brand product, you’re paying for a lot more than its contents. Branded drugs, also known as innovators, are covering a huge range of costs while still trying to turn a profit. These may include:
- Initial research and design
- Patents, licensing, and regulatory fees
- Packaging and shipping
- Advertising, marketing, and branding
- Funding for further research in the future
Generic medicines are made well after the initial discovery and testing phase. As such, they don’t have to put as much money into a research and development budget. They also don’t spend money on large advertising campaigns or fancy packaging.
Another major factor in keeping prices down is market competition. Name-brand drugs don’t have many competitors and those that do often raise prices along with each other instead of actually competing. Generic manufacturers sell their medicines based on price point, so the cost of off-brand products is always dropping over time.
Finally, brand name medications cost more because the demand for them is higher. That’s why they spend so much money on marketing initiatives.
Being familiar with a brand makes people more likely to place trust in it. And the more people are familiar with a specific drug, the more likely they are to ask for it by name at the doctor’s office or pick it up at the store. In fact, 71% of people are more likely to buy a familiar name brand product than the unfamiliar generic version.
What If the Generic Is More Expensive?
On rare occasions, you might compare the costs of branded and generic drugs and find that the branded ones are cheaper.
This is probably due to your individual health insurance plan. Sometimes drug companies partner with insurance providers to give special rates on some of their products. It never hurts to check with your insurance company to see if they give discounts on your prescriptions.
Are Generic Medications Lower Quality than Brand Name Drugs?
The larger the price difference between branded and generic products, the more people are concerned about a decrease in quality. Thankfully, due to strict approval regulations, this isn’t often the case.
Even so, you should always make sure to check the label before taking a generic drug, especially if you have sensitivities to any common inactive ingredients. As with any similar medicines, there’s always the possibility that you could react poorly to one and not the other due to slight changes in composition.
One study suggested that there was a small increase in negative side effects when people took generic blood pressure medicines as opposed to name-brand ones. However, the researchers didn’t control external factors, so there was no way to prove a causative relationship between generics and side effects. Most past investigation on the subject has shown no correlation between generics and adverse reactions.
No matter what medication your doctor prescribes, you should always make sure to talk to them about their reasoning. They may have a valid reason for recommending a certain brand name drug over a generic one.
For example, people with dye allergies may be unable to take generic medicine because of the coloring they use. They might also have noticed a difference between how effective the generic and branded versions are at treating your particular condition.
But sometimes, even the best doctors prescribe more expensive drugs out of pure habit. It’s always best to ask about all of your options for treatment before making a final decision.
Prioritize Your Health by Choosing Generic Drugs When You Can
Not all medications have generic options. But for those that do, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of generic vs brand name drugs before filling a needlessly expensive prescription. By considering all your options, you can save yourself a lot of money and stress while putting your healthcare first.
If you found this content helpful, be sure to check back often for more ways to live a healthy, well-informed lifestyle.