Brand Name or Generic Medications: Does It Matter?

Doctors often prescribe brand name medications that can be substituted for generic medications. Insurance companies preferentially cover generic medications. However, is there a difference?

Key takeaways:
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    Generic medications are both safe and effective to use.
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    Generic medications are regulated and held to the same high standards by the FDA as brand name medications.
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    Taking generic medications can reduce your prescription drug costs.
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    Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to see if a generic medication is available.

What are generic medications?

When a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug it seeks a patent for the medication. These patents are good for 20 years. These medications are then distributed under the “brand name”.

However, when the patent expires, other companies can manufacture and distribute the medication. These medications are sold under the “generic name”.

Active ingredients

Brand name and generic medications contain the same active ingredient. The active ingredient is the component of the medication that produces the desired effects.

The difference between brand name and generic medications comes in the form of inactive ingredients. These are components that help the tablet dissolve, improve the manufacturing process, and keep the medicine stable.

Both brand name and generic medications contain inactive ingredients but generic drugs may use different ones. The inactive ingredients may result in you being allergic to either the brand or generic or tolerate one better than the other.

Are generic medications as effective as brand names?

Yes. Before they can be sold, generic medications must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA requires manufacturers of generic medications to design an equivalent product. They must also design a manufacturing process that produces a consistent product.

Finally, and most importantly, the generic medication must pass a “bioequivalent” study. This study must prove the generic is equal to the brand name.

Are generic medications safe?

Yes. The FDA holds all generic medications to the same high standards for quality, safety, and efficacy. Therefore, you can sleep easy knowing that generic medications are safe to use.

How do I get generic medications?

Once a generic medication has reached the market, your doctor can prescribe it for you. However, sometimes doctors are unaware if a generic is available.

Therefore, talk with your pharmacist to see if a generic medication is available. This could save you money on your prescription medications.

Generic vs Brand Name

Brand Namevs.Generic
More expensiveCostUsually cheaper, smaller copays with insurance
Manufactured by one companyManufacturerManufactured by multiple companies
Same size, color, shape, and markings on pills of same strength AppearanceDepends on manufacturer, same medication can have different size, color, shape, and markings
Under patent protection for 20 yearsActive IngredientsExact same as brand name
Same in all pills regardless of strengthInactive IngredientsDiffers from brand name, can differ between different manufactures

Generic medications become available after the brand name medication loses its patent protection. This allows many manufacturers to develop their versions which can differ in appearance and inactive ingredients. However, the FDA ensures all generics are safe and effective for use.


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