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  • Cameron Oglesby

Price isn’t the only difference between brand-name meds and generics

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

It should comes as no surprise to learn that pharmaceutical research and development isn’t cheap.

Developing one cancer drug to the point of FDA approval, for example, can take as long as 15 years and cost as much as much as $2.6 billion, according to one JAMA analysis. From 2007 to 2014, the US pharma industry as a whole spent between $47.9 and $53.3 billion per year developing new medicines.

Patent law gives manufacturers 17-year-long monopolies to earn back that cost and make some profit. After that, anyone can legally make generic versions with the same active ingredients – and sell them at markedly lower prices. That’s why 90% of prescriptions filled are for generics.

But price can be just one of several differences – some of which are visible and some of which aren’t.

Generics can come in different sizes, shapes and colors from their brand-name cousins – no big deal.

But while they have the same dosages and active ingredients, they often have some different inactive ingredients, used to provide bulk, prevent crumbling, speed dissolution, or give the pill a nice taste or color.

They’re usually harmless, but not always. Sometimes they can cause severe allergic reactions. Preservatives such as bisulfites can trigger asthmatic allergic reactions like wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness. Generics for some brand-name drugs (anticoagulant warfarin and antiseizure drug phenytoin, for example) can put a slightly different amount into the bloodstream, causing big differences in the drug’s effectiveness.

You can avoid these risks, and still take advantage of generic pricing, with what are called Authorized Generics. These are generics made by the brand-name drug’s original manufacturer, often at the same facility, and sold under a different brand name. They’re the same size and shape as the brand-name version and fully bioequivalent. But while they come with generic savings, they may also come with higher copayments, so check your Medicare Part D or Advantage Plan formulary to see if there’s a higher copay.

Generic meds – authorized or otherwise – are one good way to save money by not paying for something you don’t need. Our detailed three-part needs assessment is another. In it, we interview the elder and his or her family to assess physical, psychosocial and mental status and determine what type and level of care are really needed. We can then recommend a coordinated program of holistic senior care that avoids the higher cost of higher levels of service than needed while at the same time closing up holes in the safety net.

To see what a difference holistic senior care can make, please call or contact us to arrange a comprehensive consultation.

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