A recent Harris Poll shows a dramatic change in what medicines people are purchasing and where they are purchasing them.
In just over two years, the proportion of adults who reported choosing generics over brand name prescription drugs has increased from 68% to 81%. In addition, more people are buying their medicines in discount stores like Wal-Mart and through the mail, rather than at chain or independent pharmacies.
In 2006, Harris predicted the increased use of low-cost generics, but these results were striking. "It is good news for those seeking to contain health care costs, including the government's Part D Medicare drug benefit program. It is not good news for pharmaceutical firms trying to generate the profits to fund their drug research, or for their shareholders."
Harris' commentary misses an important point, though.
According to a recent article in Health Affairs, prescription medicines--brand name and generic--account for only 10 percent of all health spending, much less than either hospitals (31 percent of the total) or doctors (18 percent). Since not all patients respond to medicines in the same way, we need to provide treatment options. The goal should not be to restrict access to medicines based on cost by only using generics, but focusing on what is really driving healthcare costs: chronic diseases. Nearly half of us suffer from one or more chronic diseases, which are often preventable and manageable, and $3 of $4 spent on healthcare goes toward treating chronic diseases. Let's focus on the real problem. How about more support for prevention efforts and disease management, and increasing the number of employers implementing value-based benefit design for employees and dependents?
Sometimes I think that we are not seeing the forest for the trees.