Generic and Biosimilar Prescriptions Mean Smooth Sailing and Big Savings for Americans of All Ages

Now that Rich Lichty is semi-retired, he loves to go boating on the Chesapeake Bay. His 15-year-old boat is equipped with a diving board to entice the grandchildren.

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Rich Lichty, 72, from Laurel, MD, takes a generic medicine for his blood pressure.

Rich takes a generic drug to control his blood pressure. He and his wife are enrolled in Medicare but not a supplemental plan, so lower-priced generics are his best option. The brand-name version of his blood pressure drug, for example, costs twice as much as the generic.

“That thing sitting in the water is a big investment,” he says. Generic savings means he can cover those boat maintenance bills more easily, and the quality and reliability mean that he can lead a healthier, more productive and fuller life — that is, more time with the grandchildren. The nation’s secure and reliable pharmaceutical supply chain means he can count on being able to refill his prescriptions when he needs to.

AAM’s 2020 Generic Drug & Biosimilars Access & Savings in the U.S. report tells the story of millions of America’s patients who, like Rich, trust generic and biosimilar medications. U.S. generic savings totaled $313 billion in 2019 and nearly $2.2 trillion from 2009 to 2019.

In a suburb of Santa Clarita, California, on the other side of the country from Lichty, Jeni Doerr recently went back to school to become a medical coder, and when she is not online learning she is enjoying everything the state has to offer — hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking with her dog Sally. “If you take me outside, I’m a happy girl,” she says. Last year, however, a severe, painful attack of pancolitis left her hospitalized for a week. After trying different medications, her doctor prescribed a biosimilar — a lower-cost, FDA-approved alternative to biologic medicines. “Since then,” says Doerr, “it was like flipping a light switch. I’ve had no flares and no symptoms.”

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Jeni, 35, from Santa Clarita, CA, takes a biosimilar medicine for her pancolitis.

“Think of biosimilars as the next generation of generic medicines,” John O’Brien, a pharmacist and former senior advisor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently wrote. “The promise of biosimilars means expanding treatment options for people in need. We must keep the momentum high and continue pushing our members of Congress to fight for increased access to biosimilars to save health care dollars.” The AAM report finds that in biosimilars’ ten years of existence in the United States, savings have totaled $4.5 billion.

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Other notable findings in the report:

  • 92% of generic prescriptions are filled for $20 or less.
  • Generics are 90% of prescriptions filled, yet account for only 20% of prescription drug spending.
  • Generic savings for heart disease treatment totaled $49.9 billion in 2019, and savings from generic cancer drugs came to $13.6 billion.
  • More than 60 billion generic drug doses are made in the U.S. every year.

In his introduction, the CEO of Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM) Dan Leonard writes, “The COVID-19 public health emergency in 2020 has shown America that the generics and biosimilars industry is fundamentally strong and essential to saving lives.” The savings makes a difference during the pandemic. As Reuters noted, “Medication costs for COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the United States have dropped sharply since May, reflecting advances in treatment, shorter stays and use of cheaper generic drugs.”

The report includes savings by state, with California leading the way at $28.3 billion. It also details savings for Medicare and Medicaid participants and for all age groups. Nationally, Medicare saved $96.1 billion in 2019, or $1,053 per participant, by using generics. Medicaid programs saved $48.5 billion, or $770 per participant. Unfortunately, Medicare policies often reward use of higher-cost brand drugs and biologics. Advocates recommend updating Medicare to encourage use of generics and biosimilars through payment policy and lower patient cost-sharing.

Each dollar saved represents a U.S. patient with a health condition impeding the ability to lead a full and productive life — or even threatening life.

Leonard adds, “Our medicines, from the injectables that are critical to placing a patient on a ventilator, to the steroid drugs that have reduced the risk of death in COVID patients by one-third, have proven themselves to truly be the bridge to a vaccine.”

The bottom line: safe, effective FDA-approved medicines save more Americans more money every year. During a time when we realize the importance of health, Rich and Jeni’s stories should be reassuring for all of us.

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