Elderly Medicare beneficiaries can reduce out-of-pocket spending and increase their options for low-cost Medicare Part D plans by using generic drugs. Physicians play a key role in determining use of generics and specialty may be a particularly influential factor.
We sought to compare generic cardiovascular drug use by older adults receiving cardiologist and generalist care.
We undertook a cross-sectional analysis of data from the nationally representative Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. Included were community-dwelling adults 66 years of age or older with hypertension, coronary disease, or congestive heart failure, one or more Medicare Part B claims for outpatient visits with generalists (internist or family practitioner) or cardiologists, using one or more cardiovascular drug available in both brand-name and generic formulations (n = 1828).
The primary outcome was use of one or more generic medication aggregated across 5 drug classes: beta-blockers, thiazides, calcium channel blockers (CCB), angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and alpha1-adrenergic receptor antagonists. Within-class generic use also was examined. The main independent variable was cardiologist (20.7%) versus generalist-only care (79.3%).
In the aggregate, fewer individuals under cardiologist care used generics compared with generalist-only care (75% vs. 81%, P = 0.03; adjusted relative risk 0.89, 95% confidence interval = 0.79–0.99). Overall use of generic beta-blockers was 86.6%; thiazides, 92.0%; ACE inhibitors, 59.0%; CCB, 55.5%; alpha-blockers 47.7%. In adjusted analysis, generic CCB use occurred 34% less often among cardiologist versus generalist-only patients.
Older patients of generalists and, to a greater extent, cardiologists, often use brand-name drugs when generic equivalents are available. Promoting generic prescribing among specialists and generalists may increase opportunities for patients and third-party payers to reduce spending on prescription drugs.