Generic drugs can save you money. They cost much less than brand-name drugs. But many people worry about the fact that generic drug may be not as good as branded. You need not fear that. Generic drugs are every bit as pure, potent, and safe as brands. They aren't like "generic" cereal, soap, or canned goods - where the brand is indeed usually a better product. The Food and Drug Administration regulates generic drugs just as it does brands, and all generics, by law, must have exactly the same active chemicals as the brands they copy. You'll get the same medical benefit.

It's tempting to want the newest medicine. But you may not need one. Think of generics as "tried and true." They have been prescribed for many years, and doctors know them well. In contrast, new drugs have uncertainties and can sometimes cause problems. Today, generics are available for about half of all prescription drugs, and some widely prescribed drugs will become available as generics in the next few years. So, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you can save money by using a generic drug.


Generics are copies of brand-name medicines whose patents have expired. That usually happens after a brand drug has been on the market for about 10 to 14 years. By law, the brand name company loses the right to be the only seller of that drug after its patent period is up. But it can be quite confusing when new generics become available.

The first reason for that confusion is that most of the time the brandname drug stays on the market. So if you have been taking one for many years for a chronic disease, you and your doctor will have a choice: You can stick with the brand or switch to the generic.

Not surprisingly, you may be reluctant to switch at first because change isn't easy if something is working. That's one reason many generics remain under-prescribed compared to brands. But these days, your insurer, pharmacist, and doctor may be newly committed to making the switch. Our advice: there's no reason not to.

The second reason generics can be confusing is that generic pills often look different. The companies that make brand-name drugs have been very successful at selling you their pharmapills in certain colors, shapes, and sizes. For example, you may recall the ads for the "purple pill" (for heartburn). Brand pills may also have a colored outer shell that contains a sweetener. Generics, in contract, are often plain white pills that don't look as high quality.Our advice: don't be fooled by appearances. Neither shape, color, or taste of a pill make any biological or medical difference.

The third reason for confusion is that many doctors may continue to write a prescription for the brand medicine and leave it to the pharmacist to ask you whether you would prefer that or the generic. In every state, the pharmacist can make this switch without the doctor's permission, but they must ask you first. The problem: when you get asked this question for the first time or for a new prescription, you may be reluctant. Our advice: talk it over with the pharmacist and take the generic.

Other doctors may switch to writing the prescription for the generic without fully explaining this to you.

Our recommendation is to talk with your doctor about your prescription when it is being written in his or her office. Inquire whether the prescription is for a brand or generic, and learn why your doctor has prescribed one or the other.

These days you may have to pay $7 to $10 for the generic versus $15 to $35 for the brand-name drug. If you take several medicines, the difference can mount. Also, by switching, you'll be helping to keep a lid on soaring health care costs and insurance premiums. Remember, on average, the price for the generic will be one-third the price of the brand. So, the savings for everyone is substantial.


Until now, we have been talking mostly about switching to the generic version of a brand drug when it becomes available. But there's another way you can and should be taking advantage of generics. If you are taking a costly brand-name drug for a chronic illness, a generic of another drug in the same class may be available that would work just as well and cost less. Yes, your doctor may have prescribed the brand. And if he or she wants you to stay on it, you should. But many doctors prescribe newer medicines because those are the ones that get promoted.

Bear in mind that pharmacists can not switch you to a generic of another drug without your doctor's permission. However, more and more pharmacists today are working with insurers, employers, doctors and patients to make these switches when they are appropriate.