A "growing number" of U.S. companies of "are trying harder to push generic [prescription] drugs on their employees," as generic medications often cost 80 percent less than their brand-name equivalents, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Journal, the "concerted push comes in part" because of an increasing availability of generic drugs and as companies try to reduce increasing medical costs. In 2006, four top-selling brand-name medications became available in generic forms: cholesterol-lowering statin Zocor, antidepressant Zoloft, antibiotic Zithromax and the nasal spray Flonase. At least 11 more top-selling brand-name medication patents will expire by 2008, according to the Journal. Nearly half of the 60 most commonly prescribed prescription drugs will have generic equivalents available over the next four years. The cost of those medications could save health plans and consumers an estimated $49 billion by 2010, the Journal reports. "In 20 years we've never had an opportunity like this, in terms of so many generics available in such a broad number of therapeutic categories," John Malley, a senior pharmacy-benefits consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, said. As a result, the Journal reports that many employees re-enrolling in health plans "will encounter more-aggressive efforts to make generics the clear-cut choice." Some companies have eliminated copayments or out-of-pocket costs for generics drugs, while others are requiring employees to provide documentation from their physicians if they need to take a brand-name drug when a generic equivalent is unavailable. In addition, many health consultants and insurers are urging employers to direct employees to use generic drugs even when those drugs are not direct equivalents of medications workers are taking. Critics maintain that the practice poses a risk to patients, but studies suggest that similar generic drugs are as effective as brand-name drugs, the Journal reports (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 10/31).
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Publication Date: 2006-11-02 22:00