Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are generic drugs?
A: When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a new drug, the "recipe" for the drug is protected by law for a set number of years. This is called a brand-name drug. Only the drug maker can sell the drug during this time. When this protected period ends, other drug makers can produce and sell generic versions of the drug.
Q: Are generic drugs as good as brand-name drugs?
A: Generics have the same dosage, safety, strength, quality, performance characteristics and intended use as their brand-name versions. Generis drugs have the same active ingredients. The FDA says generic drugs are as safe and effective as their brand-name versions.
Q: Are there any differences between generic and brand-name drugs?
A: Yes. Generic drugs are often called by their chemical names. ("Tylenol" is a brand name. "Acetaminophen" is the generic name.) Generic drugs look different from the brand-name version. (Trademark laws don't allow generic drugs to look exactly like brand-name drugs.) And a big difference is the price. Generic drugs usually cost a lot less.
Q: Are generic drugs as safe as brand-name drugs?
A: Yes. The FDA requires that all drugs be safe and effective. Generics use the same active ingredients as brand names. And studies show that generics work the same way in the body and have the same benefits and risks as their brand-name counterparts.
Q: Are generic drugs as strong as brand-name drugs?
A: Yes. The FDA requires generic drugs to have the same strength, quality, purity and stability as brand-name drugs.
Q: Why are generic drugs less expensive?
A: Generics cost less because the companies that make them don't have to pass along the costs of advertising and research and development like the original drug maker did. Also, competition between drug makers helps keep the prices of generic drugs lower.
Q: Does every brand-name drug have a generic?
A: No. About half of all brand-name drugs have a generic version.
Q: Does Aetna promote the use of generic drugs?
A: Yes. We encourage you and your doctor to consider generic drugs when they are available. As an incentive, some of our health plans give you a lower copay if you use generic drugs. Ask your doctor if there are generic versions of the brand-name drugs you take.
Want to know more about generic drugs? Watch this 3-minute video.