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About Generics

Today, most drug classes offer several options. Some are higher-cost brand-name drugs and others are lower-cost generic options. Choosing a generic medicine can save you money each time you fill your prescription while still safely and effectively treating your condition. To learn more about generics, please read through these frequently asked questions below.
Q:How do I know if I could be saving on my prescriptions by changing to generic medications?
A:Since most drug classes offer generic options today, you can save by changing to a generic. To see if you could be saving money each time you fill your prescription, visit our Find Savings and Opportunities page to learn about your options. Then, take the information provided and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about changing to a generic medication. It’s a good idea to ask about generic options every time your doctor prescribes a new medication, and talk to your pharmacist about generics each time you fill a prescription.
Q:Why should I change to a generic medication?
A:The short answer is, because of the money you can save. The average annual member savings with generic medications is $200-$360. This is why generic medicines account for 69 percent of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States, yet only 16 percent of all dollars spent on prescriptions. Generics are becoming the medication of choice because they can help save everyone money—the health care system, your employer and, most importantly, you.
Q:What is the difference between generic equivalent and generic alternative medicines?
A:A generic equivalent contains the same active ingredients, in the very same strength, as a specific brand-name drug. Many brands now have generic equivalents, which are just as safe and effective as brand drugs.However, not all brands have a generic equivalent, in which case there may be a generic alternative medicine that is right for you. A generic alternative medicine is a generic equivalent of a different drug than the one you are taking that may also effectively treat your condition. Since generic medicines are less expensive, you can save money if you are able to take a generic alternative to treat your condition.
Q:Why do generic drugs cost less?
A:Generic medications are less expensive because generic manufacturers don’t have the large investment costs of the original developer. New drugs have a patent that allows the drug to only be sold by that one company. Once the patent expires, other manufacturers can apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell the generic equivalent. With no investment costs and more competition among the generic manufacturers, the price of generics is less.
Q:Are generic drugs available for my condition?
A:The FDA has approved more than 10,000 generic drug options for brand-name drugs, so there is likely one available to help you obtain a lower-cost, effective treatment. Generic medications are available for common conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, allergies, asthma, migraines, stomach acid conditions, osteoporosis, infections, depression, pain/inflammation, migraines, overactive bladder and many others. To see the generic options for various conditions, visit our Drug Coverage and Cost page to learn more.
Q:What is the difference between brand-name and generic drugs?
A:When the patent of a brand-name medicine expires, other drug manufacturers can make and sell the same medicine. This medicine is sold under its chemical name, which is why it is called a “generic.” Like their brand-name counterparts, all generic medicines are tested and approved by the FDA before they can be sold to consumers. In the United States, trademark laws do not allow a generic medicine to look exactly like its brand-name counterpart. Therefore, you can expect a generic medicine to be a different color or a different shape than its brand-name counterpart. However, the way it looks has no effect on how the medicine works.
Q:Are generic drugs as effective as brand-name drugs?
A:Yes. The FDA requires generic equivalents to have the same active ingredients, and work in the body the same way as the brand-name drug. The FDA requires generic equivalents to have the same quality, strength, purity and stability as brand drugs.
Q:Are generic drugs as safe as brand-name drugs?
A:Yes. The FDA says that all drugs must work well and be safe. Generic medicines may look different in size or color, and their names are different (they are referred to by their chemical names instead of brand names), but the FDA has the same standards for quality and effectiveness as their brand-name counterparts. Generic drug manufacturers have facilities that are FDA-inspected, just like brand-name facilities. The FDA conducts about 3,500 inspections a year to ensure standards are being met.
1. Annual savings estimate based on 2009 data from CVS Caremark Industry Analytics and Finance.
2. Association for Accessible Medicines website:
3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Generic Drugs:
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