February 20, 2019
September 24, 2018 by Dr. Varner in Prescriptions without Insurance
Ask any person on medication in the U.S. and they will likely tell you that their medication comes with a unique side effect: pecuniary pain.
Brand name drugs can cost patients thousands of dollars a month, even (or especially) with insurance.
Many complain that only the rich have access to healthcare in the US, but when a single injection can cost upwards of $2,000—that can bankrupt a person of any status. It’s a problem across the board.
Why are Brand Name Drugs so Expensive?
The reason behind the exorbitantly high prices of prescription medication is a combination of an extremely bureaucratic drug approval process and the third-party payer insurance system.
In order for a drug to be approved, it has to go through over a decade of testing to meet the FDA’s requirements for approval. In that time, drug companies rack up expenses upwards of a billion dollars for all of the research and large-scale clinical trials that they are required to do.
Due to these heavy research costs, companies need to have a way to recoup their expenses. So in exchange, these pharmaceutical companies are then given protection by the government for a certain number of years to be the exclusive producers of that drug, and they have that window of time to squeeze as much revenue out of the drug as possible.
Luckily, those government patent protections don’t last forever. Once they expire, the market is opened to competition. This gives way to allow other companies to produce and sell generic versions of the same drug at far lower prices.
Despite having cheaper generic options available, many people still do not use them either because they don’t know they exist or they’re afraid to try them.
For those looking to take their healthcare back into their own hands and to not be bankrupted in the process, knowing when you can turn to generic alternatives is one of the first steps.
Are Generic Drugs safe?
Every prescription has two places to sign. Signing in one place requires pharmacists to dispense the brand name version of the drug, signing in the other doesn’t. For my patients, I always sign “substitute permitted”, which allows the pharmacist to sell the patient whichever version they prefer.
For the most part, generic drugs and brand name drugs are basically indistinguishable products. It’s like buying Lucerne milk versus store brand milk, you’re dealing with a single ingredient, so the main difference that you’re paying for is the marketing.
That’s typically the case with brand-name drugs, but there are times when there is a little bit of a difference. I’ll give you some examples and then show you how to make sure you are getting the best quality even in generic medications.
One very commonly cited example of a difference between generic and branded medications is with the drug Levothyroxine, a medication to treat thyroid hormone deficiencies. The brand name for that is called Synthroid and it has been found that there is a slight difference between manufacturer to manufacturer in the amount of the drug that is absorbed.
Some doctors insist on prescribing only the brand name version of the drug as the effective dose you’re getting could vary by as much as 10% per manufacturer. From the doctor’s side of things, it makes sense to play it safe. For patients, however, this could mean paying 5 times as much per month for the medication. With long-term usage, that can really add up.
How to Find High-Quality Generic Drugs
So what can you do to keep costs low, but still get the same quality medications?
When people say that they need the brand name Synthroid, they’re really just saying, “I just want the consistency of getting something from the same manufacturer.”
So as the consumer, when you are on a version of the medication that works for you, check who is the manufacturer of the pill.
For Synthroid or Levothyroxine, for example, you might find that Teva pharmaceuticals is the specific manufacturer of the version you’re taking. So when you go to fill your prescription, tell the pharmacist that you want the Teva pharmaceuticals version of Levothyroxine and the dosage.
If they don’t have it, go to a different pharmacy or call around and ask them until you find the generic manufacturer you want. When you find it, you can buy a six month or a year supply all at once and save yourself even more money.
For an additional reduction in price, check out my top two websites for prescription drug discounts. I call them my secret weapons, as they’ve saved my patients thousands of dollars on their prescriptions.
It takes a bit of extra research and effort to look into the alternatives, but doing so can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars each year on your prescriptions and enable you to take back control of your own health.