The makers of high-cost brand name drugs continue to lose market share to lower cost generic versions and generic alternatives. According to a new Univera Healthcare Fact Sheet on cost trends of prescription drugs, generics now account for nearly 72 percent of all prescriptions written in upstate New York - up from about 52 percent five years ago.
Some brand name drug manufacturers are aggressively looking for ways to save their spot in your medicine cabinet. Their strategy targets the electronic prescribing systems that more and more doctors are using to instantly send prescriptions from the exam room to the patient's pharmacy.
We're encouraging, and physicians are embracing, e-prescribing technology because it can issue alerts about dosing, drug allergies, drug interactions and duplicate therapies. Errors tied to legibility and opportunities for fraud are virtually eliminated.
E-prescribing software also can alert prescribers to money-saving opportunities with generic or other lower-cost alternatives to high-priced brand name drugs. That's why this technology has the attention of big drug companies.
Legislation pending in Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota would prohibit e-prescribing software from showing doctors lower-cost drug options, including generics and preferred brands; would prevent e-prescribing software from showing safety information; and would disallow lower-cost pharmacy options.
According to industry Web site DrugstoreNews.com, one of the world's largest drug makers is behind e-prescribing restrictions within the Indiana legislation.
If you read the article on Best Buy Drugs in the March 2011 issue of Consumer Reports, you'll understand why. The Consumer Reports authors use Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering statin Lipitor as an example of the opportunities to save with generics: They list a monthly supply of Lipitor (one 10-mg pill per day) at $112, compared to $4 for a monthly supply of CR Best Buy Drug generic alternative Lovastatin (one 20-mg pill per day).
We estimate the cost difference to be even greater since the current average wholesale price we see for Lipitor is $154 per month, compared to generic alternatives that range from $4 to $10 for a month's supply.
Univera Healthcare calculates that the increase in market share for generics over the past five years has reduced overall health care spending in upstate New York by about $1 billion.
Whether or not the state-by-state effort succeeds in placing limits on e-prescribing technology, ultimately health care consumers retain all the power. That is, as long as they remember to ask their doctor or pharmacist this simple question, "Is there a lower cost generic or over-the-counter alternative that's right for me."
Robert J. Holzhauer, MD, is vice president and chief medical officer of Univera Healthcare.