Name Brand Or Generic Prescription Drugs: How To Decide


WRITTEN BY: Craig Sturgill

UPDATED: OCTOBER 04, 2022 | 1 MIN READ

Generic prescription drugs may cost 50% to 85% less than a brand-name drug for the same ailment. When you visit the pharmacy for a prescription, are you better off with a generic drug, or are name-brand drugs best? The answer may surprise you. Let’s examine name-brand versus generic drugs and what to consider when filling a prescription.

Do Generic Prescription Drugs Work the Same Way as Name-Brand Drugs?

Generic prescription drugs work the same as name-brand drugs. The Food and Drug Association (FDA) requires generic medications to offer the same active ingredient, same benefits, and the same risks as the name-brand medication.  The generics also require the same “dosage, safety, strength, stability, and quality, as well as in the way it is taken,” according to FDA guidelines.

Are generic drugs just as safe as name-brand ones?

Yes. The FDA thoroughly tests generic drugs before they may be sold to consumers. Before the FDA approves a generic, the manufacturer must prove the generic is an effective substitute for a name-brand medication.

Are generic prescription drugs as effective as their name-brand counterparts?

Yes. A 2019 study of health insurance claims examined the effectiveness of generic drugs versus name brands. Results show patients who took the generic had a comparable therapeutic outcome to those who took name-brand drugs.

Do all name-brand prescription drugs have a generic equivalent?

No. A generic for a name-brand drug may not be available in the U.S. The lack of availability because the generic needs testing or the drug manufacturer still holds the patent. Patents have a 20-year term.

Patients must note the United States differs in generic availability. For example, Canadian residents may have access to generics unavailable in the U.S. As of 2022, the FDA has approved more than 11,000 generic drugs for sale in the U.S.

Pros and Cons Of Generic Prescription Drugs

Taking any drug can come with an inherent advantage or disadvantage. Generic prescription drugs aren’t the exception and offer both pros and cons.

Pros

Patients can have valuable pros with a generic drug.

  • Generic prescription drugs cost less than their brand-name counterparts
  • Generics undergo rigorous safety tests
  • Generics feature the same effectiveness and same active ingredients 
  • Generics are easy to find at most major store pharmacies or via an online pharmacy

Cons

Generics may also bring several cons when chosen over a brand-name drug.

  • Generic drugs may have a different appearance, which could cause consumer confusion, especially in elderly patients. 
  • Generic drug manufacturers may add filler ingredients, which can affect the medication’s absorption rate
  • Slower therapeutic effects may occur with a generic compared to a name-brand drug
  • Not every generic is a fit for every patient, so you may need to go through trial-and-error

Other Considerations

Some individual and family health insurance plans might not cover brand-name generics or if they do, require a higher copay. Several states and one U.S. territory mandate that pharmacists substitute generic prescription drugs a name-brand if they meet prescribing requirements. These states are:

When Does a Name-Brand Prescription Drug Option Make Sense?

Name-brand prescription drugs are better when the prescription is for a narrow therapeutic index drug. These drugs require strict adherence to dose and blood concentration. Even a slight difference in dosage for these drugs may cause severe effects and life-threatening issues. Anti-seizure medications and Warfarin are good examples of narrow therapeutic index drugs.  

Can you request name-brand drugs instead of generic ones?

Yes. You can ask your pharmacist for the name-brand drug if you desire. Your pharmacist will fill the prescription as written unless your doctor notes otherwise.

Does your health insurance cover name-brand drugs if there’s a generic option?

Health insurance plans vary with prescription coverage. Your insurance plan states which drugs it covers in a list or a formulary. The formulary lists drugs by tier or category. 

Tier 1 is often mostly generic prescription drugs, while Tier 2 is for non-preferred generics and name-brand drugs. Tier 3 is for higher-cost medications, and may include a few generics, depending on the insurance company. 

Can a doctor request you receive name-brand prescription drugs?

Yes. Your doctor can write “Do not substitute,” or “dispense as written” on your prescription so you receive only the name-brand drug. 

FAQs

How do you differentiate between name-brand and generic drugs?

A name-brand drug will have a specific copyright name. The generic prescription drug will refer to the medication’s chemical makeup. For example, Tylenol refers to the brand-name Tylenol pills. Acetaminophen is the generic name.

Is brand-name medication better than generic?

The drugs work the same. The FDA says generics are as effective as brand-name drugs. A generic drug is often made in the same facility as the name-brand drug.

Is generic medicine less effective?

No. The generics don’t differ in effectiveness. Generics have the same active ingredients as the brand-name drug.

What pharmacy has the best generic prescription drugs?

Which pharmacy offers the best generic prescription drug prices differs by location. An online pharmacy may feature a lower price than a store. Walmart has a list of generics starting at $4 for a 30-day supply, with a 90-day supply starting at $10. Walmart and other stores often create these lists for generics at commonly-prescribed dosages. 

Why do generic drugs cost less?

Generic prescription drugs have a lower cost because they don’t have the repeated studies their brand-name counterparts require. Drug manufacturers make the generics for a lower cost which lowers consumer prices.

Finding Health Insurance That Covers Your Prescriptions

Whether you take a name-brand or generic prescription drugs, you need a health insurance plan that covers your medication. Not every health insurance plan is the same. You may find great savings when you compare rates and coverage for health insurers.