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Health Plan to Promote Generic Drugs

November 26, 2001

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Southeastern Pennsylvania’s largest health insurer plans to reward doctors who prescribe more generic drugs.

Starting in March, Keystone Health Plan East plans to begin offering incentive payments to medical practices that use less costly generic drugs. Details, including the amounts of the incentives, are still being worked out, Keystone spokesman Chris Rathke said.

Keystone, part of Independence Blue Cross, already sends doctors reports on how they compare with their peers in prescribing brand-name medicines and the less expensive generic equivalents.

The reports and rewards are becoming more common throughout the industry as insurers search for ways to lower skyrocketing health care costs.

The plan concerns some physicians, who say doctors should base decisions only on what is best for the patient.

Dr. Richard Schott, a cardiologist in Media, Pa. said patients should be warned that their physicians are subject to incentives for selecting certain medications. He worried that doctor might prescribe an older generic even if a newer, more effective medication was available.

``A patient expects a doctor to be doing what is best for them in an uncompromised fashion,″ Schott said.

Keystone officials intend to take into account that generic medications are not appropriate in every case, Rathke said.

Clay O’Dell, spokesman for the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry Association in Washington, D.C., said such incentives are no more harmful than the marketing efforts of pharmaceutical companies.

O’Dell noted that Merck-Medco, a Merck & Co. subsidiary in Pittsburgh, launched a program earlier this year to deliver free samples of generic drugs to physicians, as pharmaceutical companies do with their brand-name medicines.

The managed care organizations, he said, are simply ``doing the kind of thing the major manufacturers have been doing for years.″