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By Richard Vienne

If we each ask our doctor or pharmacist one simple question, health care spending in our region can be reduced by more than $400 million annually: “Is there a generic alternative that’s right for me?”

Generics offer significant savings to consumers, both in terms of lower copays, or lower retail prices for those who pay out-of-pocket or from a health savings account.

Upstate New Yorkers could see more than $196 million in annualized savings as 14 brand-name prescription drugs become available in their generic form during 2013, and an additional $250 million in savings after 23 more generics become available in 2014.

Generics are approved by the Food and Drug Administration as being as safe and effective as their brand-name counterparts.

Leading the list of new generics that offer the greatest savings opportunities are Diovan, for treatment of high blood pressure, and Cymbalta, for a variety of conditions including depression.

Upstate New York’s 39,000 Diovan users spend about $48 million annually for the drug.

The retail cost for a 30-day supply of Diovan is about $125. Generic versions are projected to be priced as low as $25 for a 30-day supply once they become widely available (prices vary by pharmacy). The potential annual savings for Diovan users in upstate New York is $38 million.

Upstate New York’s 40,000 Cymbalta users spend about $98 million annually for the drug. The retail cost for a 30-day supply of Cymbalta is about $275. The price for the generic is expected to be about $55 once it becomes widely available after its release in December. The potential annual savings upstate is $78 million.

More than 126,000 upstate New Yorkers use the 14 brand-name drugs that are scheduled to become available as generics during 2013.

Leading the list for 2014 will be the generic for Nexium that is scheduled to become available in May 2014. More than 46,000 upstate New Yorkers use Nexium, which is used to treat heartburn. The potential annual savings associated with its generic version is more than $83 million.

The savings opportunity offered by generic drugs is so great that health insurers consider the lower cost of generics when constructing premium rates. Typically, prescription drug spending represents about 15 percent to 17 percent of a health plan’s total benefit expense.

Visit go.univerahealthcare.com/generics for more information on how to save with generics. And remember to ask your doctor or pharmacist: “Is there a generic alternative that’s right for me?”

Richard Vienne, D.O., is vice president and chief medical officer at Univera Healthcare.