Costs of generic and alternative drugs


Picture this: your doctor prescribed you a brand-name medicine you trust. When you look up the drug on your insurance company’s website, you see it’s very expensive. Then, you notice there are cheaper options: generic equivalents and alternatives. 

Generic drugs, whether equivalents or alternatives, are usually much cheaper—costing up to 80%–85% less than the brand-name options.¹ In fact, about two-thirds of prescriptions today are filled with generics.² CenterWell Pharmacy® may fill your prescription with a generic to help save you money without sacrificing effectiveness. 

Remember, generic equivalents and alternatives aren’t the same thing! Let’s look at the differences and help you compare the costs.

What is a generic equivalent? 

Don’t worry, the label “generic” doesn’t mean that a medicine is lower quality, or not as safe. These medicines are called generics because they aren’t protected by a patent. 

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), generic equivalents are just as safe, strong and effective at treating your condition as the brand-name versions. They’re made using the same FDA-approved active ingredients, and they are taken the same way.³

So, what makes a generic drug different from its brand-name version? It may be made with different inactive ingredients, like preservatives, colors or flavoring. These ingredients may change how a generic drug looks, but they won’t affect how it works to treat your condition.⁴

What is an alternative medicine? 

You might have seen “alternative medicine” used to talk about acupuncture, herbal supplements or other non-medical treatments. When prescribers say “alternative,” though, they mean generic or brand-name medicines that are similar to a brand-name medicine you were prescribed. Your prescriber may recommend one of these alternatives if your brand-name medicine doesn’t have a generic equivalent. Alternative drugs may vary in dosage or use different ingredients, but they can be used to treat the same—or similar—conditions. 

Are there alternatives available for your prescription? That depends on the drug. If alternatives are available, CenterWell Pharmacy can work with your prescriber to find one that fits your needs. 

See the savings 

Below, you’ll find our top 5 most-requested brand-name drugs and their estimated prices per dose compared to some generics and alternatives.⁵ Want to see if your drug is covered, and whether there are equivalents or alternatives available? Use our Drug List search tool.

Generic versus alternative drugs

* Drugs listed are for comparison only. They may or may not be covered by your insurance plan. Please check your plan’s Evidence of Coverage (EOC). 

Are generics really safe and cheaper? 

Yes! Generics are legally required to be just as safe and effective as the brand-name drugs. Manufacturers are only allowed to produce and market generic drugs once the patent on the brand-name version has expired. 

Why are brand-name drugs more expensive? When making a new medicine, brand-name manufacturers spend a lot of money on research and development. They must also pay for trials to make sure that the medicine is safe and effective for patients. Because of this investment, the FDA allows the original manufacturer to be the only one who can sell the new medicine for the first few years. 

When the patent expires, other manufacturers are free to make their own generic versions. To do this, they must prove to the FDA that they can make a medicine just as safe and effective as the brand-name medicine. Fortunately, these manufacturers don’t need to redo the trials that the brand-name manufacturer had to complete. They may also compete to make the same drug. This means that generic versions usually cost less. 

We’re here for you 

Always talk to your prescriber about the best medicine for you. Whether you choose to fill your prescription with a brand-name or generic medicine, we’ll help make sure you get it on time. If the brand-name medicine isn’t covered by your plan, our pharmacy technicians will find the most cost-effective drug options for you. They’ll also double-check your order for accuracy—because your safety is our top priority. Then, we’ll ship your order safely and securely right to your door. 


  1. “Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed September 17, 2020,
  2. “Generic Medications: Are They the Same?” Glaucoma Research Foundation, last accessed August 19, 2020,
  3. “Generic Drug Facts,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed August 19, 2020,
  4. “Generic Drugs: The Same Medicine for Less Money,” Consumer Reports, last accessed August 19, 2020,
  5. AARP drug pricing tool, last accessed September 30, 2020,

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