Generic Prescription Drugs Are Not Like Off-Brand Cereal

Most people have heard that generic drugs are an alternative to name-brand medications often prescribed by doctors. They also know that they are cheaper. However, we’ve seen some articles recently comparing generics to off-brand products. We don’t necessarily think that they should be viewed like “Cheerios” vs. your grocery store’s “Oaty O’s.” We won’t argue that it can be said that a generic drug is basically a medication that’s like the no-frills version of a name-brand drug. The difference with generic medications is that although there are no frills, they are pretty much the same regarding what’s inside. In our case, we are specifically referring to the active ingredients and, maybe more importantly, how they work.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the differences between generics and name-brand medications and then talk about how they are the same.


Name-brand drugs are given a specific name by the pharmaceutical company that develops and markets them. These names are usually catchy and easy to remember. On the other hand, generic drugs are marketed under their chemical name or a simpler name, which is often derived from the active ingredient. This makes them hard to recognize initially, and oftentimes, there are multiple generics for the same name-brand medication with completely different names.


Generic drugs are generally less expensive than their name-brand counterparts. This is because generic drug manufacturers do not have to invest in the research and development, clinical trials, and marketing that name-brand drug companies do. As a result, generic drugs can be sold at a lower cost while still meeting the same safety and efficacy standards.


While the active ingredient in a generic drug is the same as that in a name-brand drug, there may be differences in color, shape, size, or packaging due to variations in the non-active ingredients used in the formulation. However, these differences do not affect the drug’s effectiveness.

Patents and Exclusive Rights

When a pharmaceutical company develops a new drug, they are usually granted a patent that gives them exclusive rights to market and sell it for a certain period (typically 20 years from the filing date). Once the patent expires, other companies can produce and sell generic versions of the drug, which helps introduce competition and lower prices.


This is ultimately where the “Oaty O’s” (as we’ll call it) metaphor falls apart. For prescription medications, a generic drug cannot just be “compared to” the name-brand drug. Generic drugs must meet the same rigorous standards for quality, safety, and effectiveness as name-brand drugs. Regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, require generic drugs to demonstrate “bioequivalence.” This means that the generic drug’s rate and extent of absorption do not significantly differ from those of the name-brand drug.

In the end, because generic drugs are essentially identical to name-brand drugs in terms of active ingredients, safety, and efficacy, we don’t feel the off-brand “Oaty O’s” metaphor gives people a proper understanding of what they are. Regardless of how you explain or understand what generics are, it’s good to know they offer a more affordable option for consumers and contribute to competition in the pharmaceutical market.

If you are interested in hearing about how your health plan can have access to $1 generics, then contact Excel Health Plans today.