Medicare could have saved $925M by swapping brand-name combo drugs for generics

Brand-name combination drugs may be more expensive than buying each drug separately, and had Medicare swapped out these expensive drugs, it could have saved $925 million in 2016, a new study published in JAMA suggests.

For the study, titled "Medicare Spending on Brand-name Combination Medications vs Their Generic Constituents," researchers analyzed data on 1,500 medicines that accounted for the highest total spending for Medicare Part D in 2015. This included 29 brand-name combination pills and their generic constituents.

Here are six things to know:

1. The 29 brand-name combination drugs were divided into three categories: those available as generics at identical doses; those available as generics at different doses; and therapeutically equivalent generic substitutes.

2. Researchers found that Medicare spent $303 million on brand-name combo pills when identical doses of generics sold separately would've cost $68 million in 2016.

3. In addition, Medicare spent $491 million on brand-name drugs that had generic equivalents. Had the generic equivalent been prescribed, Medicare would've paid just $20 million.

4. Further, Medicare spent $232 million on brand-name combo pills that would have cost $13 million if patients had received generic drugs at different doses.

5. The $925 million that would have been saved includes $235 million if generic products had been prescribed in the same doses, $219 million using generic substitution of different doses and $471 million from substitution of generic equivalents.

6. Researchers noted that combo pills have their perks, including that patients can cut back on the number of pills they need to take. However, "generic substitution and therapeutic interchange may offer important opportunities to achieve substantial savings," they concluded.

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