Reports from the Field: Researchers look at generic vs. name-brand drugs

Insurers, employers, and providers should have a better understanding of prescription drugs before they decide whether a generic or a name brand is better, a group of University of Michigan researchers have concluded. Many physicians prescribe generic drugs because of the cost reduction. Many times, the brand name drug would be more efficient.

"We feel there’s a lack of knowledge on the part of employers, insurers, and providers regarding generic drugs and that these changes in prescription drug benefit programs should be made based upon a better understanding of the issues," said Duane Kirking, lead investigator on the project, of the motivation for the team’s research. The Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation provided $50,000 in funding toward the research.

The researchers conducted an in-depth look at the issues of brand-name medications and their generic equivalents.

While patients often ask for brand-name drugs, if they are told the generic drug is available and cheaper, they will most often decide on the one of lesser cost. Even if there are manufacturing campaigns to advertise brand name drugs, many times consumers will choose the generic drug to save money, Kirking says.

Manufacturers of brand-name pharmaceuticals trying to generate profits on the drugs they invented are loathe to give over market share to cheaper generics, but insurers trying to drive costs down often push providers to prescribe and dispense generics. They also encourage patients to take generics through higher copays on brand-name medications, the researchers point out.

Arguments that generics are not a true substitute are moot because of improvements in science that make it possible to tell whether generics are as effective as name brand drugs, they add. The researchers are publishing their findings in a seven-article series in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association that began with the September/October 2001 issue.