As our House and Senate debate the merits and pitfalls of bringing affordable healthcare to the American masses, the parallels between human and animal medicine are unmistakable. One area in which this is more the case than most revolves around the unbelievably big savings that can come from going generic with your pet drugs...and the unfortunate downside of doing so for some.

Just as your health insurance carrier wants badly to limit your consumption of super-pricey on-patent drugs, you the pet owner want unfettered access to the least marked-up drugs for your pets. In both cases that inevitably means seeking generics in lieu of fancy brand names that in almost all cases offer no substantive inducements to warrant the big price differential. Because once that brand-name blockbuster drug goes off patent all bets are off. In comes the generic competition to drive everyone’s prices down .

In other words, going generic is nearly always preferable financially. After all, the FDA requires that generic drugs be chemically the same (same ingredients, just as pure, just as stable) and offered at the same dosages in the same preparations. They’re identical––in theory anyway. So why not get the cheaper stuff?

Great question. And not always so easily answered. Why? Because individuals who suffer some conditions may have varying responses or reactions to certain generics. But there’s no easy way to know whether the generic you seek is one that may not serve you or your pet as well as the brand name. In fact, in most cases it’s all about time-consuming trial and error. But not always...

Which is why some consumer groups are there to help you reach an informed personal decision on the subject. The Consumer Federation of the Southeast has even issued a six-question card that helps you arrive at a decision with your doc and pharmacist’s help.

The implication, of course, is that sometimes humans are switched over to generics against their physicians’ recommendations so their insurance companies can save a buck...at the expense of the patient's personal health.

Interestingly, the opposite problem is what plagues vet medicine. While it’s true that generics don’t always make ideal substitutes (consider the case of Zyrtec and its generic, cetirizine, profiled recently here), the high cost of brand-name pet drugs and the dearth of animal-only generics means pet owners are often forced (by law) to endure high prices as a result of legal maneuvers and lack of competition in small animal pharma. (Here’s a post on this.)

We may complain about our generics as human patients––and no doubt deserve to should we be strong-armed into use medications our docs don't believe are in our best interest––but should nevertheless remain aware that generics are our friends in almost all instances.

Because ultimately, a system whereby generics flow more freely bodes better for animal health. Generic drugs mean more competition, more choices, lower prices and greater access to care. Even if it means my clients will need cards like the one above, I'm thinking it's a good thing. What say you?