Study: Medicare Could Save Over 2.5 BILLION by Switching to Generic Drugs

What is Medicare’s annual cost of brand-name combination drugs?

Three researchers from Harvard Medical School set out to answer this question. They wanted to figure out the difference in cost between brand-name combination drugs and their generics.

Combination drugs are medications that contain two or more active pharmaceutical ingredients. Taking a combination pill helps patients who require more than one medication simplify their daily drug regimen. In addition, combination therapy—treating a condition with multiple therapies at once—can be very beneficial. For example, the drug Caduet is a combination drug that can treat high blood pressure or chest pain related to high cholesterol.

In this study, published last week, the researchers delved into five years of Medicare Part D data. They looked at 1500 drugs that accounted for the highest spending during that period.

Their analysis showed that Medicare spent more than $2.9 billion on the 10 most expensive brand-name combination drugs. Had generic medications been prescribed, Medicare Part D—and its beneficiaries—would have saved a total of $2.7 billion.

Combination drugs are usually brand-name, although many generic manufacturers are now entering the market. There is often no difference between generic and brand-name drugs; only a very small percentage of patients will require brand-name medications.

Most of the time, generic drugs work just as well as their brand-name counterparts. Their active ingredients are identical, and they have to pass the same quality and performance standards.

With drug prices being what they are, and cost sharing on prescription drugs still very high, seniors can save hundreds of dollars a year by choosing generic drugs.

If your doctor prescribes a brand-name medication, here’s what you should ask:

  • Does this drug come in generic form?
  • If so, why can’t I use it?
  • If not, are there any other medications I can use to achieve the same results?

In some cases, the brand-name might actually be the best choice for you. But often, doctors prescribe the brand-name because they’re most familiar with it. Don’t be afraid to ask for the cheaper option next time you need a new drug. As a senior living on a fixed income, you’ll be glad to have the savings.