Increase in Generic Fill Rate Saved Upstate New York $127 Million in 2009

Measurable increases in the use of generic drugs as alternatives to higher-priced brand-name drugs produced estimated savings totaling $127 million across upstate New York in 2009, according to an updated analysis of prescription patterns released today by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Estimated savings in the Central New York region totaled $31.4 million.

The analysis shows that from October 2008 to October 2009, the overall “generic fill rate” across all upstate New York counties increased about 1 percentage point, from 68.4 percent to 69.5 percent. The generic fill rate for each of upstate New York’s five regions, including Central New York, went up roughly 1 percentage point. The generic fill rate is the percentage of all drug prescriptions that are filled with a generic.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s findings for 2009, added to previous company analyses, show that since October 2005, communitywide savings from increasing use of generic drugs has totaled more than $853 million. In addition to saving upstate New Yorkers money, wider use of generics may boost compliance rates among individuals taking prescription medications, according to national studies.

“An increase in the use of generic drugs helps everyone in today’s economy,” said Joel Owerbach, Pharm.D., vice president and chief pharmacy officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It saves consumers money at the pharmacy through lower copays and out-of-pocket costs, which may be the added incentive patients need to continue taking their medication as prescribed.

“Generics also lower benefit expenses for employer-sponsored and government health plans,” continued Owerbach. “The availability of a number of new generics on the market at the end of 2009 and early 2010 should continue to provide significant savings opportunities for upstate New Yorkers in 2010.

“Over the past five years, the greatest savings on prescription costs have come from two drug classes: proton pump inhibitors to treat heartburn/acid reflux and statin drugs to treat high cholesterol,” noted Owerbach. “Last November, one of the leading branded proton pump inhibitors (Prevacid?) lost its patent and generics became available, cutting the cost of therapy from almost $200 per month to about $60 per month.

“We anticipate a big spike in prescription drug cost savings when the patent for Lipitor expires in 2011,” said Owerbach. “Our estimates show that upstate New Yorkers spent more than $170 million to fill some 1.4 million prescriptions for Lipitor in 2009.”

The generic fill rate analysis in upstate New York was based on prescription consumption patterns of approximately 1 million people living in 39 counties of upstate New York from October 2008 to October 2009, which were then extrapolated to the larger population of those counties. The updated report is available online at, in the site’s “Fact Sheets, Surveys & Reports” section. This update supplements a series of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield generic drug fact sheets, which are also posted on the web site.

The Facts About Opportunities for Generic Savings in 2010 and 2011, for example, lists dates when consumers can expect to take advantage of other generic availabilities and savings. In addition to Lipitor, drugs whose patents are scheduled to expire over the next two years include Effexor XR, Aricept, Yaz and Tricor.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield issued its first generic drug savings report in late 2005. At that time, the generic fill rate for the upstate New York population was 53.8 percent — 15.7 percentage points lower than it is today. Since that time, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has developed a series of educational materials and resources, including online tools to educate employers, members and providers about the safety, effectiveness and cost-saving opportunities available with generics. The online tools are free and available to the public at

“The increase in generic drug use means that more people in our community can afford important drug therapy,” said Owerbach. “With more opportunities becoming available from 2010 through 2013, our primary message is to encourage everyone who is taking a medication to ask his/her doctor or pharmacist if a generic option is available and right for them.”