Take the recent study, conducted in 2007, showing only a handful of people, relatively speaking, who took advantage of their healthcare insurance provision to buy $4 generic drugs. If all the people who could buy $4 generics did so at that time, society would have saved nearly $6 billion. A lot of money, no question. The study included 31,000 people; fewer than 6% bought $4 drugs.
It’s tough to imagine that 93% of these people hated society, so maybe there’s something else going on here. They didn’t know? Perhaps. They don’t like generics? Unlikely. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72% of all scripts written in 2008 were generics, and sales of generics grew 8% from 2005 to 2006. The percentages wouldn’t have changed that much from 2007.
In that same study, “Over half of physicians say they frequently talk with patients about the out of-pocket costs of medicines they prescribe, 62% say they switch patients to less expensive drugs, and 58% say they give patients office samples.”
It's anybody guess why those patients chose to spend more money. But, none of the above is the good-grief part. The following is.
Back in November, the New England Journal of Medicine ran a piece about the possible damage that these $4 generic sales can do to long-term improvements in healthcare.
Normally, when a patient purchases a prescription with insurance, that purchase generates a claims record. The pharmacy sends the claim to the pharmacy benefit manager. These claims can be used for healthcare management, including medication safety, verifying clinical trial results, and ensuring medication adherence.
But, with the $4 generics, patients often pay in cash. The authors say the pharmacies often do not submit the claim information “since they have no incentive to do so.” The result: patients are classified as non-adherent or non-users. And, because these drugs are often prescribed for chronic diseases, “the consequences of these missing claims are not insignificant.” This is also important to the topic of medication adherence because it already suffers from a lack of awareness. With almost 80% of the prescriptions today being dispensed as generic, medication non-adherence will become more of a silent disease.
The authors, Niteesh K. Choudhry, M.D., Ph.D., and William H. Shrank, M.D., M.S.H.S., aren’t labeling the pharmacies as bad guys – their actions are unintentional, they say. But, as they point out, new systems need to be devised to make sure the claims are filed.