Generic Drugs and Low-Cost Prescriptions

Prescription drugs can be pricey, especially if you’re juggling several prescriptions. Buying generic drugs can be one way to save money. Generics have the same active ingredients as the brand-name drugs they’re based on. They cost 20 percent to 70 percent less, according to estimates from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If you want to make sure you’re getting generics when possible, talk to your doctor and pharmacist. You can ask your doctor to write a prescription allowing a generic drug product when it’s appropriate.

Getting Generic Drugs Q&A

Do all drugs have generic versions?

No, but a lot do. New drugs are protected by patents, so only the company that came up with the drug can sell it. Patents generally last 17 years, giving companies that put a lot of money into developing and promoting a drug time to recoup those costs. Once the patent expires, however, other companies can get a generic approved and start selling it.

To see what generic drugs FDA has approved lately, and for more information on generic drugs, visit You also can look up information on specific generic and brand-name drugs on the Drugs and Supplements page at

How can I get generic drugs?

To find out if there’s a generic drug that will work just as well for you as a brand-name drug you’re taking, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Tell them you want the most effective drug at the best price, and that you want prescriptions for generic drugs when possible.

Each state has a law allowing pharmacists to substitute generic drugs for many brand-name products if your doctor doesn’t specify that the brand-name drug is required.

Will my doctor automatically prescribe generic drugs?

It depends on the doctor. You can ask your doctor to write a prescription allowing substitution of a generic drug when it’s appropriate. You also can ask whether a generic product will be as effective and less costly.

Offers You Get About Low-Cost Prescriptions

If you get emails saying free or low-cost prescription drugs are just a phone call away — or you visit a website that says it can help you get free prescription drugs for a fee — it’s likely to be a scam.

However, many prescription drug companies offer free or low-cost drugs for people who:

  • don’t have prescription drug coverage
  • can’t afford to pay for medication out of pocket, or
  • have used their insurance’s annual allowance

But the programs have qualification standards. Your income and the cost of the drugs you need can affect whether you qualify. Information on these programs is free — and publicly available — from your physician, pharmacists, and the government.

Where To Learn More

For more on generic drugs...

Visit the FDA website at FDA also has a toll-free hotline to answer questions about drug safety and efficacy: 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332). You can look up information on specific generic and brand-name drugs on the Drugs and Supplements page at

For more on assistance programs for people who don’t have prescription drug coverage...

At, a “one-stop” website sponsored by a drug company trade group, you can apply for free or low-cost prescription programs or medicines, or you can ask your health care provider to do it for you. A computer program determines whether there's a match for you among the various programs. Health care providers have to approve most applications for these assistance programs.

For the federal government’s Medicare information...

Got to or call 1-800-MEDICARE. You also can learn more about applying for help with Medicare prescription drug costs at

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