A generic drug is a medication that copies a brand-name medication but is sold without the brand and at a lower cost. "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a generic drug as one that is the same as the brand-name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance, and intended use."
Typically generic drugs appear on the market after a patent on a brand-name medication has expired. FDA approval is required for generic drugs before they can be sold, and the FDA has been accused of delaying approvals for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry and the expense of patients who must then continue to pay more for the brand-name drug.
The price difference between generics and brand names is not small. For example, the brand name version of a drug commonly prescribed for high blood pressure costs almost three times as much as the generic version.
"Generic drugs now account for about 12 percent of the nation's $250 billion a year in drug spending and more than 53 percent of prescriptions filled. IMS Health, a company that tracks the industry, predicts that the percentage will exceed 65 percent within four years as several blockbuster drugs go off patent. Express Scripts, which manages pharmacy benefits for many insurers, estimates that the figure could be 70 to 75 percent by 2010."
- Merck's brand name: Prinivil; generic name: Lisinopril; prices quoted by an online pharmacy for 20 mg tablets: Prinivil $176.26/180 = $0.98 each; Lisinopril $63.97/180 = $0.36 each.