Consumers urged to request generic prescriptions

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(Host) A coalition of consumer and medical groups is launching a public education campaign to help reduce the state’s prescription drug budget.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the past few years, the cost of providing prescription drug assistance to Vermont’s 140,000 Medicaid eligible consumers has skyrocketed. In 1999, the cost was roughly $45 million – in the most recent fiscal year it increased to $100 million.

A number of groups, including Vermont AARP, the Coalition of Vermont Elders, the Vermont Medical Society and the State Human Services Agency are teaming up in an effort to reduce these drug costs. The public education campaign assures consumers that generic drugs are just as effective as their brand name equivalents and a lot less expensive. This is important because a new state law requires doctors to prescribe generics for Medicaid patients unless the physician determines that the more expensive brand name drug is medically necessary.

Paul Harrington – director of the Vermont Medical Society, the state association for doctors – says there’s no doubt that a court decision allowing drug companies to advertise on TV has dramatically increased consumer demand for these drugs. Harrington says consumers need to realize that they don’t always need the expensive brand name drugs that are being aggressively marketed by the pharmaceutical companies:

(Harrington) “So the basic message of this press conference, this effort is everybody needs to be aware that drug costs are too high and everybody has a role to play in reducing those costs. We’re trying to send a message that for many conditions the generic drug or the brand name drug that the state has negotiated a lower cost around is as good or better that some of the ones they saw on television last night.”

(Kinzel) Elizabeth Peterson, from COVE, says the public outreach program needs to be successful if the state is going to be able to continue to offer prescription drug assistance under Medicaid. This past winter the Legislature did impose some new deductibles and co payments for the V-SCRIPT programs:

(Peterson) “We know that if we and others on V-SCRIPT do not do our part in asking for the most cost effective drugs, these programs which we so desperately need will may be more difficult for the state to continue.”

(Kinzel) There are indications that the program could save the state millions of dollars. In just the last six months, almost two million dollars has been saved by switching patients from a brand name heartburn drug over to a generic equivalent.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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