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A prescription for lower health costs
Using generic medications, when appropriate, leaves more money in your pocket
May 13, 2011

Two gas stations are located at opposite corners of an intersection. At one, the price for a gallon of gas is $12. At the other, it’s $150.


So where would you fill up your tank?


Paying even a nickel more for a gallon of gas seems foolish. We may even drive across town to find the cheapest price. Yet many Iowans don’t use the same shopping savvy with their prescription drugs. In fact, Iowans waste millions of dollars each year by choosing costly brand name drugs instead of inexpensive generic medications.


“Brand name prescription drugs are a leading driver of high health care costs,” says Matt Hosford, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield pharmacy director. “The good news is that, in many cases, generic medications exist at only a fraction of the cost of their brand name counterparts.”


The 75-25 rule

While 75 percent of Wellmark members’ prescriptions are filled with generic medications, the remaining 25 percent make up 75 percent of the cost of all medications. And those costs add up – on average, about 15 cents of every premium dollar is used to pay for prescription drugs.


Hosford says many people consider their copay – the amount they pay out of pocket for their prescription – as the actual cost of the drug. However, while the copay may be $20, $30 or even $50, the actual cost of the drug is much higher.  (NOTE: Out-of-pocket costs may be higher for people with coinsurance, who pay a percentage of the full price of their prescriptions.)


Cholesterol-lowering medications a leading cause of high drug costs

In 2010, Wellmark members in Iowa and South Dakota received nearly 750,000 prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering medications (known as statins), at a cost of more than $44 million. The average cost of a brand name medication was $154, while the average cost of a generic alternative was less than $12.


Wellmark spent $19 million last year on Lipitor, the leading statin medication, at an average price of $152 per prescription (up 6.6 percent from 2009).


If everyone had received a generic cholesterol medication, more than $35 million could have been saved – a savings of 80 percent!


“There are times when no generic alternative exists for a certain health condition,” Hosford says. “But for most of us, it comes down to this: If two drugs work the same, and are equally effective, would you rather pay $12 or $150?”


Saving money is as easy as talking with your doctor

Copays or coinsurance are generally much lower for generic medications, leaving more money in your pocket. In addition, many retail pharmacies offer generic medications for only $4.


The first step toward saving money is to discuss options with your personal physician, pharmacist, or other health care provider. They can review your current prescriptions and recommend generics as appropriate.


“Helping patients save money is an increasingly important role for health care providers,” Hosford says. “And asking your doctor to prescribe generics is an easy way to do just that.”


For more information on health and health insurance, call the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Personal Health Assistant 24/7 at 1-800-724-9122, or visit


Contact Wellmark Media Relations

Traci McBee
Phone: 515-376-4338


Teresa Roof
Phone: 515-376-5869


1331 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50309-2901

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