Many doctors, perhaps even most of them in fact, when writing prescriptions, have a tendency to write them for brand name rather than generic drugs. This is done, in part, because they truly believe the brand name drug is better for your condition, but in larger part it is because they are encouraged to do so by the pharmaceutical companies.
The problem with this practice is that it costs consumers $8 to $10 billion more each year in outlays for medicines, and does nothing to better their condition. Generic drugs are manufactured under the same FDA rules as the brand name drugs, and though trademark laws require that they have a different appearance, they are identical in content, efficacy and potential side effects.
I had my own experience with the brand name versus generic question when my family doctor and I both decided that I had lowered my cholesterol as far as possible using diet and exercise alone. I had gotten it down to almost normal levels, but it still hovered in the high category, so we made a mutual decision to try cholesterol lowering medication. He wrote the prescription for Lipitor, Pfizer’s newest (and most expensive) drug for cholesterol. I thought nothing of it at the time, trusting that he knew what he was doing. Having retired from the army, I have access to the local military base hospital, and I took the prescription there to be filled. That’s when my education began.
The pharmacy director at the military base informed me that because of the high cost of Lipitor, they could only fill my prescription if a military doctor determined it could treat my condition better than a less expensive generic. I was absolutely shocked when he showed me the difference in cost. Zocor, a generic simvastatin, was a fourth the price of Lipitor. I spoke with an army doctor at the hospital who explained that the two drugs were essentially identical, and without any special conditions, the more expensive medication would do nothing more for me.
I went back to my own doctor and explained to him what I had learned. To my surprise, he agreed that the generic would work just as well, and changed the prescription. I began taking a 20 mg Zocor each day instead of 20 mg of Lipitor, and within three months my cholesterol levels were normal. Needless to say, my health insurance company was also pleased at the decision to go for the less expensive medication, saving them a ton of money in payments.
What I learned from this experience is that before you naively accept a doctor’s advice about medication, ask questions. You might find that a generic drug will get the job done and cost you far less money.