Generic meds: The low cost of feeling good

When my sister Ella first started having liver problems in December 2007, I went out to visit her. When I got to her hospital room, she was trying to be brave, but was deeply worried. In addition to her fears about treatment, Ella was terrified about her finances. As a graduate teaching assistant, she didn't have very much money, and she wasn't insured; frankly, she had no idea how she was going to pay for the drugs and medical care that she needed to save her life.

A few days later, when the hospital released Ella, they gave her prescriptions for Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic, and Percocet, a painkiller. While we were in Wal-Mart picking up a huge pile of assorted health-care paraphernalia, she dropped off her order at the pharmacy counter. When we picked it up a half-hour later, we had a huge surprise: Ella's medications came to less than $15.

Later on, discussing this with Ella's doctors, we realized that the low cost of her meds wasn't an accident. Understanding her financial situation, her health-care team had carefully chosen Ella's drugs. Taking into account both efficacy and cost, they had determined that Cipro and Percocet would not only do the job medically, but would also minimize the strain on my sister's wallet. Apparently, the Geisinger clinic had consulted with Wal-Mart, determined which medications were less expensive, and was careful to prescribe them whenever possible.