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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

CBS-TV Evening News (6:00 PM ET)
Sep 21, 2003

by GRETCHEN CARLSON & VINCE GONZALEZ

Contest between brand-name drugs and cheaper generics

GRETCHEN CARLSON, anchor: Health-care costs are soaring again and that puts a spotlight on the long-running contest between brand-name drugs and cheaper generics. In California, Vince Gonzales reports some doctors and HMOs are taking sides.

VINCE GONZALES reporting: For this patient's mild eye infection, a costly, brand-name drug is not what the doctor ordered.

Dr. DANIEL STONE (Cedars-Sinai Medical Group): I wrote your prescription for an eyedrop for your eye infection which is the generic for the drug Garamycin.

GONZALES: Like many physicians, Dr. Daniel Stone often prefers prescribing generic drugs which contain the same active ingredients. He feels they're just as effective and cost significantly less.

Dr. STONE: For patients who have experience with generic drugs, most of them are enthusiastic about generic drugs because they realize it's a--a way for them to save some money and still get good treatment.

GONZALES: To get more people to switch, four of California's biggest HMO kicked off a new campaign. They're giving out coupons, waiving a patient's first co-payment as much as $10 for certain heavily prescribed drugs including medications used to treat common conditions such as arthritis, depression and high cholesterol.

The HMOs hope to counter aggressive marketing of expensive brand-name drugs that bombards consumers every day through TV and print ads.

Dr. ERIC BOOK (Blue Shield of California): Our indications show that for a one cr--1 percent increase in the use of generic drugs above the cer--of--above the current rate, then for Blue Shield members there'll be a savings of approximately $6 million.

GONZALES: The HMOs claim the savings will be passed on to patients in the form of lower premiums, but health-care advocate Jamie Court believes consumers won't see any extra cash.

Mr. JAMIE COURT (Health-Care Advocate): What patients may see is less out-of-pocket costs because they would have paid more for a brand-name than a generic.

GONZALES: Dr. Stone knows that generic drugs don't work as well in some patients, but he hopes they will take advantage of the HMO incentives and give generics a try.

Dr. STONE: The fact that they'll be able to access a month of medication without have to pay out of pocket for it I think will allow the--the generic drug a foot in the door if their symptoms are controlled.

GONZALES: California's HMOs want cost controlled. They point out a patient taking three different drugs could save between $500 and $1,000 a year by switching to generics.

Vince Gonzales, CBS News, Los Angeles.

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