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Generic and brand-name medicine

Why does it cost more money to fill a brand-name prescription than a generic? Other than price, is there actually a difference between the two medicines? We know it can be confusing, but we think this will help clarify.

What’s the difference between generic and brand-name medicine?

Both prescription medicine and over-the-counter medicine can have brand-name and generic versions.

The biggest differences between generic and brand-name medicines are what the medicine costs and what it looks like. By law, the safety and effectiveness must be the same.

What’s the same?

  • How it works: Generic and brand-name medicines use the same ingredients, and they have the same dosage, strength, instructions and use.
  • How well it works: The FDA requires generic medicines to be as effective as brand-name medicines.
  • How safe it is: Generic and brand-name medicines have the same risks and benefits.

What’s different?

  • What it looks like: Because of trademark laws, generic medicines can’t look identical to its brand-name counterparts.
  • What it costs: Generic medicines typically cost at least $100 less than the brand-name versions.

Why don’t all medicines have a generic version?

Brand-name medicine is trademarked and sold under a patent-protected name. As long as the medicine has a patent, other companies cannot make or sell it. Most patents last for 20 years. Because patents last so long, newer medicines do not have generic versions yet.

Once the patent expires, other companies can make the same medicine in a generic form. That medicine is sold under the name of the main ingredient.

Making the case for generic medicine

The difference in cost between generic and brand-name medicines can be significant. Switching to a generic version of your prescriptions could save you several hundred dollars. Log in to myHealthPartners to see which generic medicines are covered by your insurance.

Still looking for more information?

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for more information about generic medicine. You can also contact member services for more answers.

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