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Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Linking Our Drug Marketing Reforms With Higher Generic Use = Savings

Linking Our Drug Marketing Reforms With Higher Generic Use = Savings

March 28, 2012

Massachusetts ranks as one of the top states for medication adherence, while residents with chronic conditions are more likely than residents of all other states to take generic medication. These findings come from CVS Caremark’s new report, which examined medication adherence for four common chronic diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression – in all 50 states to determine if patients are taking (or not taking) their medications.

The fact that Massachusetts has good prescription drug adherence rates across all conditions with correspondingly high generic rates points to yet another compelling reason for encouraging the use of generic medication. According to the report, the use of generics is a critical component in determining whether patients are following their prescription drug regimen because the high cost of brand-name drugs can be a deterrent. Increasing medication adherence can help patients avoid unnecessary medical treatments and hospitalizations, which experts estimate can cost $290 billion annually. In addition, the use of generics can generate savings for the entire health care system by saving consumers money in out-of-pocket costs and lowering prescription drug costs for employers and insurers.

Health Care For All has long supported two existing laws in Massachusetts that encourage the use of generic medications over higher-cost brand name drugs: the gift ban and disclosure law and the ban on so-called drug coupons. Both of these laws place restrictions on the marketing practices of pharma and medical device manufacturers, who use marketing to promote the newest, most expensive brand name drugs over equally effective and cheaper generics.

The gift ban and disclosure law prohibits drug and medical device companies from providing gifts, such as meals or entertainment, to doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, and other health care providers, as part of their marketing practices. The law further requires the reporting of many provider payments from the drug and medical device industry, which DPH annually publishes on their website. The gift ban enables the Commonwealth to limit the aggressive marketing activity conducted by the drug and medical device companies so that industry profits do not come before patients’ health and their pocketbooks.

Massachusetts has also long banned the use of so-called prescription drug coupons. While this drug industry marketing tactic initially lowers out-of-pocket costs for consumers, coupons are typically available only for a limited supply of high cost name-brand drugs, leaving patients with higher copays for the remaining duration of their prescriptions. A recent Consumer Reports article warns of the deceptive nature of coupons, cautioning consumers to beware of this marketing ploy that can increase costs in the long run for consumers, employers and insurers.

Indeed, when examined alongside the findings from the recent report on drug adherence, these two laws – aimed at protecting consumers and controlling health care costs by encouraging the use of generics – seem to be working. In fact, the correlation between the high use of generics and the state’s high prescription drug adherence rates shows yet another potential benefit of these laws: more patients are taking generics and sticking to their prescriptions, which in turn translates into improved health outcomes and savings for both consumers and the state.

At a time when Massachusetts lawmakers are looking for the most effective ways to improve health care quality and control costs, the recent findings on adherence to generic drugs indicate that Massachusetts is making headway in an area that can improve health outcomes and deliver real health care savings for both patients and the state. And we are incredibly fortunate to have the gift ban and drug coupon marketing ban laws in place to support these goals.
-Alyssa Vangeli