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Generics make gains Upstate is taking to drugs that cost less while curing

If there was a way to reduce the high cost of prescription drugs, wouldn't you be interested?

That's a question and it's a challenge, one that Univera Healthcare posed last year when it launched a campaign to increase the use of generic drugs. Upstate New Yorkers responded, at least to a degree.

Prescription drug spending fell an estimated $130 million as many consumers switched from expensive brand-name prescription drugs to safe and effective generics, according to the yearlong analysis by Univera.

The average generic prescription fill rate for upstate had improved from 53.8 percent in October 2005 to 60.1 percent in October 2006, an increase of 6.3 percentage points. The $130 million in savings is based on a projection of what total prescription drug costs would have been if 2006 generic fill rates had remained at 2005 levels.

Sounds great, except there's a potential yearly savings of hundreds of millions of dollars if upstate's generic fill rate were to match the upstate counties with the best rates.

Generic drugs are the FDA-approved, chemically exact equivalents of brand-name prescriptions without the fanfare of fancy commercials, plus research, development and free samples for doctors.

If a generic alternative isn't available, health care consumers should always feel free to ask if there is an effective alternative treatment that does have a generic option. The cost savings are well worth it.

The cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor, manufactured by Merck, is the brand name for the generic drug simvastatin. A one-month supply averages $155, while its generic equivalent is expected to drop to about $25 a month in the first quarter of 2007, according to Joel Owerbach, Univera Healthcare's chief pharmacy officer.

He added that if upstate consumers of Zocor and other name brand cholesterol-lowering drugs switch to a generic, the savings could exceed $190 million. More than 1.6 million prescriptions for statins were filled last year in Western New York, but only 18 percent were filled with one of three generic options, according to an estimate by Univera.

If Univera's hope of a fill-rate of 70 percent were to be achieved, health care spending in Western New York would drop more than $55 million a year, including $21 million in out-of-pocket savings and lower co-pays. Generics are not always appropriate, but where they are, their savings are too great to ignore.

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