Generic drugs are sometimes misunderstood. They are a less expensive option, but people may worry that a generic medication might not be as good as a brand name medication. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 90 percent of prescriptions that are filled in this country are for generic drugs.
For older adults who take five or more medications each day, generics can be much easier on the budget. In fact, experts say generic drugs often cost just one third of the price of a brand name medication. But are generic drugs as effective as brand name prescriptions?
Here’s what seniors and their family caregivers should know.
How Are Generic Drugs Different Than Brand Name Options?
The FDA says generic drugs are just as effective as brand name medications when used for the same purpose. For the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a generic drug, it must meet the following criteria:
- Have the same active ingredients at the same strength.
- Come in the same form (pill, inhaler, liquid).
- Be for the same use and effect.
- Reach the required level in the bloodstream in the same amount of time and to the same extent.
- Meet the same testing standards.
While the key ingredients of generic drugs are the same as brand names, there are some minor differences. None impact how the drug performs.
Color, shape, size, and packaging can be different. Preservatives and flavorings may also differ. The latter is what could occasionally cause problems for an adult under certain circumstances.
A senior might start out taking a brand name medication and experience no problems. When a generic becomes available, they switch and experience some issues. While this isn’t common, it may be due to a senior’s allergies or sensitivities to fillers and preservatives.
How to Save Money on Prescription Medications
Besides generic drugs, there are other steps older adults and caregivers can take to save money on medication. A few ideas include:
- Physician samples: If you are trying a prescription medication for the first time, ask the physician if they have any samples. Trying it first to make certain you won’t have an adverse reaction can help save money if you can’t tolerate it.
- Coupons and discount cards: Pharmaceutical salespeople often give physicians discount cards and coupons to share with their patients, especially for new, more expensive drugs. Make sure to ask the physician or staff if any are available.
- Price comparison: Prices can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, sometimes quite dramatically. Sites like GoodRx allow you to shop around from the comfort of your favorite chair. You can enter the prescription name and find prices and coupons available at pharmacies near you.
- Mail order: Some insurance providers offer much better prices for people who use mail order options for filling prescriptions. These tend to be filled in larger volumes, usually 90 days’ worth, helping to bring the price down.
- Manufacturer coupons: Some pharmaceutical companies offer their own coupons and discounts, especially for older adults and low-income families. Check with the manufacturer to see what might be available.
If you or a senior in your life is trying to find ways to save money during retirement, we have a few suggestions to consider. Our article, “9 Money-Saving Ideas for Seniors,” offers tips ranging from taking advantage of senior discounts to using credit cards that have generous reward programs.