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Switching to Generic Eye Meds Could Save Medicare Millions

Medicare is billed more than $1 billion annually for glaucoma treatments alone, researchers say

eye dropper

FRIDAY, July 28, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Prescribing generic drugs for seniors' eye problems could save the U.S. government hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to a study published recently in Ophthalmology.

Eye care specialists prescribe more brand-name drugs by volume than any other group of health care providers, according to the researchers. In 2013, eye care providers generated $2.4 billion in annual Medicare Part D prescription costs. The study authors analyzed those costs, and showed that switching to lower-cost generics could save $882 million a year. Also, negotiating prices with drug makers could save $1.09 billion a year.

Looking at specific eye conditions, the investigators found that glaucoma medications made up half of prescription eye drugs -- at a cost of $1.2 billion. Dry eye medications claimed the second highest billing, mostly due to one drug, cyclosporine (Restasis), which has no generic equivalent. Restasis was the most-used eye medication among Medicare Part D beneficiaries, accounting for $371 million in spending.

"Lawmakers are currently looking for ways to reduce federal spending for health care, and policies that favor generics over brand medications or allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices may lead to cost savings," senior author Lindsey De Lott, M.D., of the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor, said in a university news release. "Using a brand medication for a single patient may not seem like a big deal, but ultimately, these higher costs are paid by all of us."

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