NU Online News Service, Dec. 17, 4:36 p.m. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, Detroit, is organizing a pilot program to see whether a consumer education campaign can increase use of low-cost generic drugs.

Michigan Blue is mailing coupons for generic drug purchases, and letters emphasizing the high quality of U.S. generic drugs, to 7,000 members of small groups covered by Michigan Blue.

Michigan Blue will waive copayment requirements when a member uses a coupon to switch one prescription to the generic equivalent of one of 25 popular brand-name drugs.

Michigan Blue says it developed the campaign in an effort to counter the effects of “direct to consumer” advertising for expensive, brand-name prescription drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies get patents, or temporary monopolies on the right to manufacture a drug, to compensate them for the high cost of developing and promoting new drugs. The manufacturers often set extremely high prices while the drugs are under patent, especially in the United States and other wealthy countries, to recoup their costs and generate profits.

Once the patents expire, other manufacturers can also make the drugs, and prices often drop sharply.

Consumers and some doctors sometimes have dobuts about the quality of generic prescription drugs, especially when the drugs are used to treat complicated, life-threatening conditions.

“According to the FDA, there are no documented examples of a generic product manufactured to meet its approved specifications that could not be used interchangeably with the corresponding brand-name drug,” Michigan Blue says. “The FDA allows the drugs to differ in color and shape; however, both generics and brand-name drugs are held to the same testing standards and must be absorbed into the bloodstream at the same rate and in the same amounts.”

In addition to mailing coupons, Michigan Blue is sponsoring a $1 million advertising campaign for generic drugs.