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Wallet card advises consumers on ‘drug switching’

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A consumer group in Florida is offering people wallet cards with information on how to deal with so-called "drug switching" when picking up prescriptions.

The Consumer Federation of the Southeast (CFSE), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, said this week that the card comes in response to a rising trend among insurance companies known as "therapeutic substitution" or "therapeutic switching," a cost-cutting strategy that involves replacing a prescribed medication with a different one, which often is chemically different.

The wallet card, which can be downloaded from the CFSE web site, provides a list of five questions that consumers can ask a pharmacist when presented with the option to switch their prescription to a different medication — specifically, from a name-brand drug to a generic alternative. Questions include the following:

• Is this the same medicine that my physician prescribed?
• If the medicines are not exactly the same, why are you switching them?
• How will the change impact my health?
• Has the dose of my medicine changed from my previous prescription?
• Are the instructions for using this medicine different from my previous prescriptions?

"Many times the practice of drug switching happens at the pharmacy counter and may confuse the average consumer, causing them to make uninformed decisions that could be harmful to their health," Walter Dartland, executive director of the CFSE, said in a statement. "We hope the new wallet cards will help consumers be better informed when they visit their pharmacy."

CFSE said the card gives Floridians a tool to help manage their prescriptions and could potentially save lives. In a press release announcing the card, the group quoted a consumer who said her husband died because of confusion about a prescription medication for his epilepsy.

According to CFSE, plans call for 10,000 wallet cards to be distributed over the next few months to consumers through community partners, including Community Health Charities and Florida CHAIN.

Health plans continue to exude influence over prescription decisions, including both commercial payers and increasingly Medicare, according to a study released last month by Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions.

The market intelligence firm’s Pharma Insight report found that denials for new prescriptions of brand-name drugs were down 1.4% in 2009 from a year ago but were up 22.5% since 2006. Denials are prescriptions that have been submitted to a pharmacy but rejected by a patient’s health plan.

The report also found that patients of commercial health plans abandoned new prescriptions at the pharmacy at a rate of 6.3% last year, up 24% over 2008. A prescription is deemed abandoned when it’s submitted to a pharmacy but never picked up.

Together, patient abandonment and payer denials resulted in 14.4% of all new commercial-plan prescriptions going unfilled in 2009, up 5.5% from 2008, the study said.


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