Medical bills for some patients can be slashed greatly by switching their drugs from branded to generic drugs. Just for example, the generic drug for cholesterol-lowering cost just 5% (at 10 cents per pill for generic Simvastatin) of the branded version (at $2 per pill for branded Zocor). Wow! That is a savings of 95% on the medication itself!

However, a number of patients are not making the switch. Why? These patients are really worried. They worried about the generic drug’s safety and efficacy. Hmm. Is generic drugs of any real difference from branded drugs? Actually, for FDA approval, generic drugs are required to be of bioequivalent to the branded drugs. This means that the two drugs have the same active ingredient, in the same dose or concentration (through a small amount of variation is allowed) and has the same route of administration. In short, they are supposed to be virtually identical, and thus theoretically should behave the same on the body.

Hmm. So, go or no go? 🙂

SOME patients stand to shave their medical bills by as much as half by switching from branded to generic drugs, but choose not to.

Concerned about the safety and efficacy of generic drugs, they are sticking with branded names.

For example, the cholesterol-lowering branded drug Zocor costs $2 for the required daily tablet, but the generic Simvastatin, just 10 cents each. A patient who makes the switch could save $684 a year.

Sales manager Vincent Yee, 41, will save nearly $580 by year end: He now pays about $140 a year for Stamlo, a generic high blood-pressure medication, down from about $720 for the branded drug Norvasc.

The savings are a bonus, since the cheaper drug has proven just as effective in controlling his blood pressure.

But it was not a switch he made lightly. Having been on Norvasc for five years, he was afraid Stamlo would not be as effective.

There are patients out there who remain fearful and refuse to switch.

Ms Diana Koh, a pharmacist at Unity Pharmacy in Tiong Bahru, said some patients prescribed generic drugs by hospitals ask to switch back to branded ones.

She sees four such patients every month.

‘They have this perception that branded drugs are safer. Or some are already comfortable with the drugs they have been using and so are reluctant to switch,’ she said, noting that nine in 10 patients she sees each day produce prescriptions for branded drugs.

A Straits Times check on nine other privately run pharmacies found that demand for generic drugs has not gone up significantly, though some report a slow shift towards the cheaper alternatives.

Pharmacies in hospitals, however, stock generic drugs when possible to help patients keep their bills low.

More such drugs have become available on the back of a number of brand-name drugs losing their patent protection recently.

Patents, which usually run out in 20 years, are granted to give manufacturers a chance to recoup the $1 billion it costs on average to develop a new drug.

The patents for Advair and Lipitor, drugs for asthma and high cholesterol respectively, expire in 2010.

In Singapore, a generic drug is allowed in only if it yields almost the same results as the original. Last year, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) approved more than 40 of these.

Ms M.K. Fatimah, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore and chief pharmacist at Alexandra Hospital, said generic drugs stretch the patient’s dollar and expressed confidence in the HSA’s enforcement of quality standards among such drugs.

Dr Kevin Tan, an endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said most of his patients come around to accepting generic drugs after it is explained to them that they will work as well, but a few opt to stay with branded drugs.

Other doctors said they prescribe generic drugs for their patients if these are available.

However, Dr Wong Tien Hua, a general practitioner, said he goes with proven branded drugs for patients with short-term ailments.

But he agrees generic drugs are best for the pockets of patients with long-term ailments.

Mr Yee knows this. He said: ‘With day-to-day expenses getting higher nowadays, if I can get cheaper medication and if it works just as well and is of the same standard, why not?’

jessicaj@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 20th June 2008



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