Generic Drugs: Can You Trust Them?

A generic drugs are a copy of a brand name drug. It’s identical to the brand name drug in dosage, strength, safety, performance and use. Both prescription and non-prescription drugs may have generic versions.



Separate But Equal

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the pharmaceutical industry, including the approval and manufacture of generic drugs. To gain FDA approval, a generic drug must:

  • Contain the same active ingredients as the brand name drug (inactive ingredients may vary)
  • Be identical in strength, dosage form and route of administration
  • Have the same indications for use
  • Have the same effect on the body (bioequivalent)
  • Meet the same manufacturing batch requirements for identity, strength, purity and quality
  • Be manufactured under the same strict manufacturing practice standards

In short, FDA-approved generic drugs meet the same standards as the brand name drugs they emulate. All generic drugs go through a rigorous review process before achieving approval. In addition, the FDA inspects manufacturing plants and monitors quality, even after a generic drug is approved.

Looks Aren’t Everything

Generic drugs look different from their brand name counterparts. In fact, United States trademark laws state that they must look different. A generic can be any color, size or shape, as long as it doesn’t look exactly like the brand name drug.

But it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Generics have the same type and amount of active ingredients as the brand name drug, and they are usually less expensive. Many are even manufactured by the same company that makes the brand name drug.

Generics in Use

Some Medicare prescription drug plans may require that you try a generic before they will pay for a brand name drug. Or you may be able to request a generic version of a drug you take. But not every brand name drug is offered as a generic.

Your doctor or pharmacist can help you understand what drugs are available and whether a generic may be right for you based on your needs. In addition, your Medicare prescription drug plan customer service representative can explain which generics your plan covers.

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.

Additional Resources Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.
Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage: Learn what Part D covers on Medicare University.

Why Seniors are Flocking to This Newer Medicare

Since Congress gave approval to private insurers to offer Medicare alternative insurance plans, millions of Americans have enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans. Those enrollees have already made Medicare Advantage into a major revenue source for insurers, including Humana (NYSE: HUM ) , UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) , and Aetna (NYSE: AET ) ; but even better times may be ahead for insurers, given that enrollment in Medicare Advantage programs jumped 9.8% in August from a year ago, extending a trend of Medicare Advantage expanding its footprint in the United States (data courtesy of Bloomberg Intelligence).


Source: Aetna.

Confusing, but an important decision

Traditional Medicare provides seniors with a form of healthcare for all. Americans who have paid into the social security system for at least 10 years are automatically enrolled in Medicare at 65 years of age. But beginning in 1997, those enrolling in Medicare get the option of replacing their traditional Medicare part A, which pays for in-patient healthcare services, and part B, which pays for out-patient healthcare services, with Medicare Advantage, which is sometimes also known as Medicare part C.  Deciding whether or not to opt out of traditional Medicare for a Medicare Advantage plan isn’t an easy decision. It requires considering a host of factors, including how often you expect to receive treatment, and what type of treatments you expect to receive.

For example, Medicare Advantage plansMedicare Advantage often bundle prescription drug coverage — also sold separately as Medicare part D prescription plans. Medicare Advantage plans can be offered under a variety of co-pay and co-insurance scenarios. Additionally, while traditional Medicare doesn’t cap an individual’s out-of-pocket annual spending on healthcare, Medicare Advantage plans do.

Those are important advantages, but there are reasons to stick with Medicare instead. While Medicare Advantage may cost the same as traditional Medicare in certain states, enrollees may need to make an additional premium payment to insurers in other states. Also, traditional Medicare doesn’t typically require pre-authorization for visiting specialists, and may provide more flexible healthcare provider networks than Medicare Advantage plans.

Given all the moving pieces, whether or not to adopt a Medicare Advantage program remains a difficult decision that differs from person to person.

Medicare Advantage plans

Source: Aetna.

Filling a void

Medicare drawbacks and patient demands for healthcare coverage flexibility provide a market ripe for insurers. Some insurers, such as Humana, have made Medicare Advantage a cornerstone of their business. Humana’s 2.36 million Medicare Advantage members account for 75% of the company’s sales, or roughly $8.8 billion in revenue during the second quarter alone. Other larger and more diversified insurers, including UnitedHealth Group and Aetna, get a much smaller percentage of their revenue from selling Medicare Advantage plans.

Rising demand

It’s probably not shocking to hear that more and more seniors are choosing Medicare Advantage plans, given that baby boomers will be turning 65 years of age at a pace of more than 10,000 people per day through 2029. This senior boom is already helping the quarterly earnings reports of insurers. For example, Humana reported that membership grew 16.4% year over year, or by 333,000 new members, in the second quarter.At UnitedHealth Group, which serves nearly 3 million seniors through Medicare Advantage plans, more than 65,000 seniors signed up for such plans in the past year. Membership in Aetna’s Medicare Advantage plans grew from 948,000 to 1.1 million in the past year.

Final thoughts

In 2013, Medicare Advantage enrollment represented 17.4% of total Medicare enrollment, up from 14.2% in 2011. During that period, the total number of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans surged from 6.96 million people to 9.1 million people (data courtesy of Bloomberg Intelligence).The number of people enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans offered by Humana and Aetna grew by 17.2% and 18.9%, respectively, in August versus last year. And while growth at UnitedHealth was more tepid at just 1.5%, demand for these plans is likely to continue higher, rather than lower, as more baby boomers turn 65. 

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Which Social Security office is closest to me

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Image Courtesy: SSA.GOV

Applying for Medicare

When you apply for Medicare, you can sign up for Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance). Because you must pay a premium for Part B coverage, you can turn it down. However, if you decide to enroll in Part B later on, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Part B coverage. Your monthly premium will go up 10 percent for each 12-month period you were eligible for Part B, but didn’t sign up for it, unless you qualify for a special enrollment period.

If you’re eligible at age 65, your initial enrollment period begins three months before your 65th birthday, includes the month you turn age 65, and ends three months after that birthday. However, if you don’t enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period, you have another chance each year to sign up during a “general enrollment period” from January 1 through March 31. Your coverage begins on July 1 of the year you enroll. Click below for more information: 

Social Security Guide to Medicare
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Which Social Security office is closest to me? Find out here:​

Prescription Discount Cards and Other Money-Saving Medicare Tips

Prescription Discount Cards

Prescription drugs can take a big bite out of your budget. Your Medicare prescription drug plan may offer cost-saving benefits that you may not be aware of. Also, some pharmacies offer Prescription Discount Cards, programs or savings on 60- or 90-day refills.

It could pay to check into opportunities to help keep more cash in your pocket. Here are some ideas.

How to Get Medicare Prescription Drug Discounts

  • Prescription Drug Discount Program. Your Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plan might offer a prescription drug discount program. This could be a separate program from your plan benefits or it might be included in membership. Check your plan information or call your plan’s customer service number to find out more.
  • Pharmacy Discount Programs. Some pharmacies offer discount programs to regular customers. Talk to your pharmacist and ask if they have a program you might qualify for. Talk with your Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plan about how a pharmacy discount card might work with your plan benefits.
  • Prescription Discount Cards. Prescription discount cards are available through some companies and organizations. You may pay a small yearly fee to get a card. You can check online or ask your pharmacist for prescription discount cards that may be available to you. You may want to check with your Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plan to learn how a discount card might work with your plan benefits.
  • Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs (PAPs). Many drug companies have programs that offer discounts on the brand-name drugs they make. You can learn about programs by calling the company that makes your drug. You may also visit’s PAP page and look up your drug to see if there are programs available.

How to Save Money with Your Medicare Drug Plan

  • Pick a Network Pharmacy. Your Medicare prescription drug plans may have a pharmacy network. This is a group of pharmacies that offer extra savings and discounts to plan members. Your plan might also have a special arrangement with certain “preferred” pharmacies that could mean additional savings. Check your plan materials or call a plan representative for information about network pharmacies.
  • Follow the Formulary. Your Medicare prescription drug plan probably has a formulary that lists the drugs it will cover. Drugs on your plan’s formulary list cost you less than drugs not on the list. Many formularies are tiered. A tiered formulary divides drugs into groups based mostly on cost. Usually, the lower the tier, the lower your co-pay may be. You might be able to switch from a high-tier drug to one on a lower tier to help lower your costs. Ask your doctor if this is an option for you.
  • Give Generics a Chance. Generic drugs are the same as brand-name drugs in safety, strength, quality and how they work.1 They usually cost less, too. The lower cost of generic drugs could help you avoid the Medicare Part D coverage gap or pay less when you’re in it.
  • Make Mail-Order Your Pharmacy Choice. Many Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans offer a mail-order pharmacy service. Co-pays may be lower than getting refills at the pharmacy. You may save even more by ordering a 90-day supply of your drugs at one time.

You may be able to save money on prescription drugs if you explore offerings from your plan, from your pharmacy and online. Just think of what you might spend the extra cash on.

Article Courtesy of Medicare Made Clear

Keep an eye out for Glaucoma

Are you at a high risk of getting glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of vision—usually side vision—by damaging the optic nerve, which sends information from your eyes to your brain.  It usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve.  Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness for people over 60 years old. But blindness from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.

  Fortunately, you can help prevent vision loss by finding and treating problems early—and Medicare can help.  Early detection and careful, lifelong treatment can maintain vision in most people. Medicare covers a glaucoma screening once every 12 months for people with a high risk. You’re considered at high risk if you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions:

  • Do you have diabetes or a family history of glaucoma?
  • Are you African American and 50 or older?
  • Are you Hispanic American and 65 or older?


Benefits of Exercise

A regular program of moderate exercise will benefit your overall health, and studies have shown that moderate exercise such as walking or jogging three or more times every week can have an IOP lowering effect.

Vision” Foods to Include in Your Diet

  • Dark green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables: These foods contain carotenoids, which may defend against several medical conditions, including glaucoma. Lutein and zeaxanthin are especially important for vision health. They are found in dark, leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens and kale, as well as in yellow corn, okra, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mango, green beans, sweet potatoes, lima beans, squash, green, yellow and orange bell pepper and egg yolks.
  • Fruits and vegetables abundant in vitamin C: These foods include green peppers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, sweet and white potatoes, leafy greens and cantaloupe.
  • Foods containing vitamin E: These foods include eggs, fortified cereals, fruit, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, nuts, nut oils, vegetable oils and whole grains.
  • Foods containing vitamin A: Eat liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, milk, and egg yolks.
  • Foods with vitamin D: The main dietary sources are cod liver oil, “oily” fish, fortified milk and cereal, and egg yolks.
  • Foods with zinc: These foods include oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, certain seafood, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, and dairy products.
  • Foods with omega-3 fatty acids: Wild salmon, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are good sources. 

Protect Your Eyes

Wearing protective eyewear is important when engaged in sports activities or home improvement projects.  Eye injuries can result in traumatic or secondary glaucoma, so protecting your eyes from injury is another preventative you can do.

Remember, regular comprehensive eye exams are the best form of prevention against eye diseases.