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Survey: Serious Medical Conditions Drive Consumers to Brand Medications

ORLANDO, Fla. - As the severity of a medical condition increases, the likelihood that consumers will choose a generic medication dramatically decreases, says a survey released today at the Medco Health Solutions, Inc. 2004 Drug Trend Symposium.

According to the random household survey of 1,000 adult consumers nationwide -- conducted in April by marketing research firm ReedHaldyMcIntosh for Medco -- 79 percent of people would use generic medications to treat minor conditions such as a cold or the flu, and 76 percent of people would use a generic to treat heartburn. However, only 56 percent agreed to use generics to treat asthma, and only 52 percent would use generics to treat diabetes.

For treating heart disease, the number of people who would use a generic medication fell to less than 50 percent (47 percent) -- despite the fact that generic medications are the medical equivalent of their brand name counterparts, at a savings of up to 70 percent. "The results of this survey underscore -- with stunning clarity -- that consumers need more education about the efficacy, safety, and cost savings associated with generic medications," said Medco's chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Epstein. "With $30 billion in brand-name medications scheduled to go off patent in the next three years, the potential savings for plan sponsors and consumers is significant."

Generic medications contain the same active ingredient, in the same strength and dose, as their brand-name equivalents and must meet the same FDA standards as the original. In fact, many of the generics are manufactured by the same companies that created the brand-name drugs. The Generics Pharmaceutical Association estimates that for every additional 1 percent increase in generic drug usage, the country could save $1.16 billion a year in prescription drug costs.

"With our health plans and employers, we've seen that for every 2 percent increase in generic medication use, plan sponsors and employers can save 1 percent of overall cost," Epstein said. "In addition, most members can achieve significant savings, as plans often provide lower co-pays for generics."

The survey offers some insights into factors that drive brand name use. One survey result spoke directly to the power of advertising: 57 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to use a generic medication if they saw it advertised, despite the fact that generics have a lower cost, in part, because there's very little, if any, money spent on advertising them.

In another sign of the power behind brands, the survey found that when presented with the same co-pay for using either a brand name medication or a generic, 59 percent would choose the brand, while 33 percent would choose the generic (the remainder were undecided). As the cost of the co-pay rose for the brand-name medication, people were more likely to choose a generic, underscoring the importance of designing drug plans that take advantage of cost-saving opportunities for both employers and employees.
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