How much do brand name drug prescriptions cost taxpayers?
Prescribing brand name drugs instead of generic equivalents cost taxpayers $300 million in 2011, according to non-profit investigative corporation ProPublica. Paraphrasing the late, great Winston Churchill, never was so much owed by so many due to so few. Fewer than a thousand doctors with a happy prescribing finger did most of the damage by preferring expensive branded medications when cheaper generic counterparts were available. Generics and brand name drugs are the same in all but name and price. However, these physicians were doing nothing wrong as per Medicare provisions.
Part D of Medicare, specifically, has provided the loophole through which $300 million were prescribed away. This particular provision was created as a means for low-income patients to have access to low-priced medicines. Part D, however, makes no distinction between generic drugs and brand name meds. As a result, a patient may pay as little as $7 dollars for a much, much more costly drug if that is literally what the doctor ordered. Medicare is stuck with the rest of the bill, or rather taxpayers are. Since patients aren’t likely to complain about such a bargain, there is no filter to control what physicians prescribe.
That doesn’t mean these doctors are merely guilty of a sin of omission, though. As a matter of fact, many of them are linked to the drug manufacturing companies, from which they have received thousands of dollars in the guise of promotional and consulting fees. What’s to be done? One measure would be to fight fire with fire. Insurers could provide their own financial motivation to persuade participants who aren’t poverty stricken to make the switch to generics, says MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, who wasn’t involved with ProPublica’s study.
Brand name drugs are very sporadically actually better in comparison, so whenever there is a generic version, it should always be the default alternative. Part of the problem though, is that the money-fueled marketing machine is behind brand name products. In spite of that, generics could have technology on their side. For example, assistant professor of public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York Dr. Tara Bishop uses electronic health records that automatically prescribe a generic drug –if there is one available- every time a medication is entered into the system. Of course, there is also common sense; some pharmacies will give patients a generic drug even if the brand name was prescribed, unless otherwise specified by the doctor.
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