Ask questions before you buy
The Team VIVA! ladies love to bag a bargain (shoes seem to be a common weakness) and we pride ourselves on spotting a sale a mile away! Needless to say, we were surprised to learn that nearly two-thirds (38 per cent) of generic medicines are actually no cheaper than their brand name counterparts.1 After digging a little deeper, we were even more outraged to discover that so-called “savings” on generic medicines appear to line the pockets of pharmacists, rather than the the average Australian consumer.
Pharmacists receive significant discounts when bulk-buying generics, which naturally increases their profit margins. In addition, pharmacists receive $1.50 from the government for every generic medicine they dispense that does not cost the consumer more than the PBS co-payment, further increasing the incentive for the pharmacist or their assistant to substitute brand name medicines for generics.
While the generic manufacturers continue to spruik the equivalence of generics to their brand name counterparts, it appears that they may not be telling us the whole truth. You see, while the active ingredients of a generic are identical to the brand name medicine, the excipients (the inactive ingredients that bind, fill, flavour and colour the medication) can vary extensively from manufacturer to manufacturer, often causing adverse reactions in certain patient groups.
The shape, colour and size of medications can also vary between brand name medicines and their generic substitutes, often resulting in confusion among particular segments of the population, such as the elderly and mentally ill.
It is largely for these reasons that the GP will tick a box that does not allow for generic substitution of a prescription medication. Yet, despite this practice, a recent poll of GPs revealed that more than 30 per cent believe that pharmacists continue to offer and dispense a generic alternative, even when the prescription expressly prohibits substitution.2
In summary, team VIVA! encourages all consumers to ask their pharmacist about the price difference between brand name and generic medicines, and to talk to their GP if they are unsure of any risks associated with accepting a generic substitute.
- Medicines Australia. FactsBook. First Edition. 2009
- Originators vs. Generics Poll. Poll conducted on australiandoctor.com.au, 6minutes.com.au and virtualmedicalcentre.com.au sites involving 101 GP respondents. Nycomed Australia. September 2010