As medical costs and prescription drug prices soar, beleaguered consumers may find a way to save by buying generic drugs.
Drug prices vary widely when it comes to the brand
name and generic prescriptions available online and in chain and
local pharmacies. And in most of these cases, the generics are cheaper
than the brand names.
The problem that lies beneath is that many of the
newer drugs aren't available as generics.
Generic drug companies are becoming aggressive in
challenging the patents protecting brand name drugs while Congress
is pondering action to speed up the approval and availability of
The drive to slow drug-price increases is powered
by widespread concern about the rising costs of health care. According
to a 2007 report by the federal Government Accountability Office,
prescription drug spending as a share of national health expenditures
rose from 8.9 percent in 2000 to 10.1 percent in 2005. Prescription
drug spending, the report reveals, is among the fastest-growing
areas of health care expenditures.
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Generics are widely available, but prices vary significantly
from outlet to outlet. Wal-Mart roiled the industry by rolling out
a flat $4 fee for a long list of commonly prescribed generics, a
move that forced many other drug, department and grocery stores,
as well as online outlets, to lower their prices.
Still, many drugs that have recently gone off patent
and that are available as generics are only somewhat cheaper than
the original branded drugs because the Food and Drug Administration
grants the first company to get generic approval a six-month exclusive
Once those six months are up, other generic companies
enter the market, and by the time generic versions have been out
for two years, prices usually become substantially lower than when
the brand name medication was the only alternative.
Shopping for the lowest price on prescription drugs can be time-consuming but
AARP, an advocacy group for seniors, reported that
brand name drug prices climbed an average of 6.2 percent throughout
2006. Generic prices, on the other hand, fell by an average of 2
Many drugs Americans rely on to control chronic health
conditions, such as high blood pressure, anemia and osteoporosis,
have experienced rapid inflation, according to the AARP study.
cost of a year's treatment regimen with five popular drugs tracked by AARP rose
by $2,303 during a seven-year period. These price increases tend to be harder
on older Americans, many of whom require three or four medications to control
their health conditions.