Asking for generic drugs can save you big bucks

When a doctor prescribes a medication during an appointment, as patients we take the prescription slip and head for our local pharmacy. But a savings-savvy patient will pause and ask, "Is there a generic version?" This simple question could save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a year.

For example, let's look at Zocor, a popular drug that treats high cholesterol. According to the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug Report at, the average monthly cost for 10 mg of Zocor is $106. But, Simvastatin, the generic version of Zocor, costs only $36, saving you $70.

If you're reading this right now and saying, "My prescription drugs are covered by my health insurance plan; this doesn't apply to me." Think again. Even if you have health insurance with drug coverage, generics can still save you money. Here's why. Each time you fill a prescription you are responsible for your copay. Your copay is based on a drug pricing system which grades the "tier" your drug is in. Most generic drugs fall in Tier 1, which is the lowest cost and has the lowest copay. Brand name drugs generally fall in Tiers 2 and 3 and have higher copays.

Many people may assume that generics are cheaper than brand-names because they are lower quality. But that's not true. In fact, the brand-name refers to a drug's trade name, given to it by the manufacturer that holds the original patent for the drug. A patent for a drug allows the manufacturer to sell the brand-name drug exclusively. No other companies can sell a drug with the same formula of ingredients. When the patent expires, typically after 10 to 20 years, other companies are free to make the drug and sell it under its chemical-or "generic"-name.

A generic drug has the same active ingredients as the brand-name version and works just as well for nearly all patients. Occasionally, generic drug fillers such as sulfa will create complications for that small group of people allergic to sulfa; however, most people report no difference in when switching from brand name to generic. A generic pill can look different from its brand-name counterpart, but the Food & Drug Administration will only approve generic drugs that have the same strength, effectiveness, and quality as their brand-name equivalents.

You too can take advantage of lower cost generics by working with your doctor to decide whether generics are right for you. Here are some tips for the next time you need a prescription filled.

For a new prescription:

• Ask your doctor if there is a generic drug option.

• Request that your doctor write, "dispense generic" on your prescription.

• Double-check with your pharmacist that you have received the generic drug when you get your prescription filled.

• Keep an updated list of your medications so your doctor can check for interactions. If you don't have a medication list, download a form from and start yours today.

For an existing prescription:

• Visit the Drug Savings Tool at to find information about the safety, effectiveness, and price of your brand name and the generic equivalent prescription drugs, directly from the Consumer Reports Health Best Buy Drug database. 

• Ask your doctor if it's okay to change existing prescriptions to generics to save money in the future.

Everyone should be on the lookout for more generic drug choices. Over the next 14 months, seven of the 20 best-selling drugs, such as cholesterol medication Lipitor, and blood thinner Plavix, will have generics for the first time. Be ready to discuss your options with your doctor.

And one more tip for those of you who reach the doughnut hole prescription drug coverage gap in Medicare Part D. Because of the new health care law, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Part D recipients who reach the coverage gap will now get a 50% discount on brand-name prescription drugs and a 7% discount on the lower cost generic medications. It could be cheaper to use brand-name with the new discount. Use the Doughnut Hole Calculator at to learn how to completely avoid the coverage gap, or doughnut hole, where you have to pay all your prescription costs.


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