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Australian patients ‘very positive’ about generics Posted 05/10/2012

A new survey shows 75% of Australians believe that the government should offer a price discount to consumers who choose generics.

Generics are popular with patients and the government
Generic medicines are widely used in Australia and account for around 40% of prescriptions filled on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Most commonly prescribed drugs are covered by this scheme, excluding ‘critical dose medicines’ such as warfarin, phenytoin and lithium, which must be prescribed by the brand name. A subsidy is automatically applied when the drug is dispensed at a pharmacy and the cost to the patient is the patient co-payment contribution rather than the full cost of the medication.

Some doctors continue to have concerns about generics, for example, that switching between brands may confuse some patients. In December 2011 the National Prescribing Service (NPS), a government agency, highlighted ways to minimise patient confusion and addressed common misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of generic medicines [1]. NPS made it clear that while generic medicines may cost less than original brands, they are equivalent in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, bioavailability and intended use.

The advice also reminded prescribers of the rules. Pharmacists are allowed to substitute generics brands for prescribed brands if the brands are flagged in the Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits, and if consent is obtained from the patient and prescriber. The prescriber’s consent is always assumed to be granted unless ‘brand substitution not permitted’ is indicated on the prescription.

A survey published in September 2012 by the Generic Medicines Industry Association (GMiA) shows that the public has confidence in generic medicines. The national survey of more than 1,000 respondents revealed that Australians are very positive about generic medicines, with 89% of Australians rating generic prescription medicines as ‘a product I know and trust’. Most people will trust their doctor (84%) and their pharmacist (86%) to help direct them regarding which medicine to purchase.

Suggested policy change would benefit the state and poorer patients
The biggest cuts in the prices of medicines in Australian history occurred on 1 April 2012 under the Gillard Labour Government. However, PBS pricing for consumers remains at AUS$5.80 per prescription. The patient has to consent to the switch to a generic drug, but does not directly benefit financially from the switch.

The Chairman of the GMiA, Dr Martin Cross, explained that ‘consumers are not incentivized to opt for generic medicines on most occasions. GMiA advocates that consumers who are struggling the most financially could do with access to more affordable medicines.’

There is a significant opportunity to reduce the financial burden of medicine expenditure for concession cardholders and consumers that are using medicines frequently. The research shows that there is community support for a change in policy that would simultaneously reduce the financial burden of medicines on the most needy in the community and encourage greater use of generics, generating savings for the PBS.

Forty-eight per cent of respondents believe that up to AUS$1.00 discount should be given. Twenty-six per cent support a discount of AUS$1.50 and 20% think the discount should be up to AUS$2.00. For many consumers, an AUS$1.00 saving on every medicine adds up and makes a difference. Plus a price discount that drives increased usage of generic medicines will provide significant savings to the taxpayer.

‘It would be a win-win situation’, Dr Cross says, and welcomes talks with all parties on how to increase the uptake of generics and save the neediest money at the same time.

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Reference

1.  Ping CC, et al. A web-based survey on Australian community pharmacists' perceptions and practices of generic substitution. J Generic Med. 2010;7(4):342-53.

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Source: Department of Health and Ageing, GMiA, NPS

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