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Frequently Asked Questions

What are generic drugs?

What are generic drugs?

A generic drug is a chemically equivalent, lower-cost version of a brand-name drug. The generic version becomes available when the brand-name drug's patent protection expires, and it usually costs about half the price of the brand-name version.

All drugs have a generic name. When a pharmaceutical company first develops a new drug, it gives the drug a generic name (or "chemical name"). The company then gives the drug a brand-name as part of its marketing plan.

What is "generic substitution"?

Generic substitution occurs when a prescription is written for a brand-name drug but is filled with a generic version.

Does TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery require generic substitution?

Yes. The TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery is a generic-based pharmacy service. Brand-name drugs for which a generic equivalent is available may be dispensed only if your doctor submits documentation of medical necessity to Express Scripts for prescribing the brand-name drug in place of its generic equivalent. All generic drugs dispensed through TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery meet the stringent standards of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for quality and therapeutic efficacy.

How can I know when a generic drug is available?

Just ask your doctor to allow for generic substitution when he or she writes your prescription. Then, if a generic is available, your pharmacist will provide it to you.

Managed healthcare programs encourage doctors to prescribe generics because they are less expensive, but some doctors (and patients) still choose higher priced brand-name drugs. Most plans charge a higher copayment for brand-name drugs than for generics. You may even pay additional costs if you request a brand name instead of its generic version.

What if my doctor prescribes a brand-name drug, but my plan requires generic substitution?

The TRICARE Pharmacy Program requires the use of generic drugs. If your doctor writes a prescription for a brand name drug and specifies that it should be dispensed as written, a pharmacist will contact your doctor and request the generic version.

Why do some generic drugs look different than their brand-name versions?

All drugs — brand-name and generic — have inactive ingredients (such as dyes, fillers and preservatives) that often determine the size, shape and color of the drug. The inactive ingredients in a brand-name drug may be different than those used in the generic versions.

If generic drugs are just as good as brand-name drugs, why do generics cost less?

Unlike the manufacturers of brand-name drugs, the makers of generics don't have to spend money on research and development, marketing, and advertising. Advertising in particular has become a huge cost of doing business, and this cost is passed along to the consumer in the form of higher priced brand-name drugs.

As for quality, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes sure that generic drugs are equivalent to brand-name drugs. By equivalent, the FDA means that generics must contain the same active ingredients and work the same way in the body.

Are there reasons to stick with a brand-name drug even if there is a generic on the market?

In some cases, the generic version might not be right for you. Remember, the FDA regulates the equivalency of active ingredients in generic drugs. But there are also tiny amounts of inactive ingredients, which may give the drug its bulk or a specific shape or color. For some people these inactive ingredients may have an unanticipated effect.

For example, suppose you're allergic to wheat. If a drug has some added fiber to help it pass through the gastrointestinal system quickly, that fiber doesn't affect how the drug works on your arthritis pain. However, if the bulking agent is wheat fiber, you may experience a slight allergic reaction.

If you have a specific allergy, ask your pharmacist about the ingredients in your medicine and remind your doctor of your allergies. There are sometimes several generic versions of a drug with slightly different inactive ingredients, so there may be one that is right for you.

What about the companies that make generic drugs? Are they as trustworthy as the companies that make the brand-name drugs?

That's a common concern, but you can trust generic drug manufacturers. Many times the same company that developed the brand-name drug releases a generic version when the patent expires. Other companies specialize in making generic drugs.

Many drugs are difficult to make, even when their active ingredients are known. In fact, some drugs never become available as generics because they are too difficult or costly to make.

Why aren't all prescription drugs available in a generic version?

When a company develops a new drug and submits it for FDA approval, a 17-year patent is issued. A generic version cannot be manufactured until the 17-year patent expires.

In some cases, a drug is on the market for only a few years before the generic is available. This is usually because the original testing period required by the FDA took so many years that, by the time the drug was approved, there were only a few years left on the patent.

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