There’s an interesting video from WCVB in Boston about doctors getting kick backs from the insurance company to switch patients from branded medications to generic medications: New Rules To Protect Prescription Drug Customers.
If people were concerned about undue influence when drug companies used to give physicians pens and other novelties (now currently banned by most companies), they should really be concerned about actual monetary payments.
The patient interviewed in the Boston piece stated his doctor wanted to switch him from Lipitor to generic simvastatin (both cholesterol lowering medications), but did not mention that he was being payed by his insurance company to do so.
Though this is the first case I have heard of doctors being incentivized to switch patients to generics, it happens in pharmacies all the time. What is horrible is that some pharmacies may switch patients to alternative medications even if that switch costs the patient more money.
Switching to generics is itself not a bad things. I have blogged before that, for most medicines, generics are just as good as brand name medicines. For example, if the patient were on Zocor, a switch to the generic simvastatin would probably make a lot of sense, since the medications are basically equivalent and it would likely save the patient some money. However, in some cases, the small differences may actually make a difference.
In this particular case, the therapeutic switch from Lipitor to simvastatin might have been devastating since Lipitor is a much stronger medication. The piece does not say what dose the patient was on, but if the patient required Lipitor 40mg or 80mg, no dose of simvastatin would have given him the cholesterol lowering he needed.
What should you do?
1. If you are on a branded medication, ask your doctor if there is a generic equivalent of the exact same medicine, or one that works just as well.
2. If you are on a branded medicine and asked to switch to a generic by your doctor, find out why he or she wants to switch.
3. If you are on a branded medicine and asked to switch to a generic by your pharmacy, find out why they want you to switch. Is your insurance company asking for the switch? Is the medicine the same (generic substitution) or slightly different (therapeutic substitution)?
Regardless, make sure that you check with your doctor before switching any medicine.
Matthew Mintz is an internal medicine physician and blogs at Dr. Mintz’ Blog.
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