Using generic drugs

National medical care costs continue to rise year after year. “Generic drugs” are one solution expected to help hold down medical care costs. Switching from brand-name drugs to generic drugs is also easier on household budgets and should contribute significantly to cutting medical care costs. Be sure to read all the information provided below to ensure a proper understanding of the benefits of generic drugs, then use them to save on medical care costs.

What are generic drugs?

As you may have gathered from television ads, generic drug are drugs introduced after the period of exclusivity of brand-name drugs (i.e., the term of the drug patent, in principle 20-25 years) has expired. Featuring the same active ingredients as brand-name drugs, they are available at lower cost due to lower development costs.

Benefits of choosing generic drugs

Switching from brand-name drugs to generic drugs can lower what you pay at the pharmacy. While this may not amount to much for medicines taken over a short period of time, like cold medicines, it can cut drug costs significantly for people who require medicines over extended periods to treat chronic conditions like dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

* The amounts shown in the table are drug prices for reference purposes only. The actual amount the patient pays at the pharmacy will include other costs, such as the dispensing technical fee and pharmacy admin fee.

Click here to determine how much you could save by switching drugs you normally take to generics.

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Surcharges apply, even at pharmacies, for services outside regular business hours.

If you have a prescription filled early in the morning, late at night, and on holidays, you will be charged a surcharge. Each surcharge is covered by health insurance. Except in an urgent or otherwise unavoidable cases, please try to have prescriptions filled during hours in which no surcharges apply.

Surcharges apply when using a pharmacy outside regular business hours

Did you know: If you have a prescription filled outside the pharmacy's regular business hours, you may be charged a surcharge in addition to the amount you would pay during regular business hours? Holiday surcharges typically apply on days the pharmacy is closed (Sundays, public holidays, and the New Year holiday period), while late-night surcharges apply late at night.

  • Outside regular business hours: surcharge equal to the dispensing technical fee
  • Holidays: surcharge equal to 1.4 times the dispensing technical fee
  • Late night: surcharge equal to twice the dispensing technical fee

* The technical fee for dispensing drugs is the total of the basic dispensing fee and the compounding fee.

Surcharges during pharmacy operating hours

Some pharmacies charge a late-night/holiday surcharge of 400 yen to fill a prescription during the following hours, even if these hours are within the pharmacy's regular business hours:

  • 7:00 pm (1:00 pm on Saturdays) - 8:00 am the next day
  • During pharmacy operating hours on holidays (Sundays, holidays, December 29 - January 3)

How to switch to generic drugs

Start by asking your doctor

Ask your doctor if you are currently undergoing treatment and have not yet switched to generic drugs. Whatever reluctance you might feel in asking such a question, simply asking “Can I use generic drugs?” can cut your drug costs dramatically. With prompting from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, growing numbers of medical care institutions are taking active steps to encourage the use of generic drugs. Don't be afraid to ask.

Check “the No substitutions” space on your prescription

Current prescriptions indicate whether or not it is possible to switch to generic drugs for each medicine. In a case of generic prescribing* using a generic name for a drug instead of a trade name, you are free to choose a generic drug at the pharmacy.

*Generic prescribing refers to writing prescriptions on which the doctor specifies active ingredients instead of trade names for drugs. Sometimes a generic drug will be denoted by the word generic preceding the drug name.

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Take your drug notebook with you to your pharmacy

You will pay less for your drug if you bring your drug notebook to a pharmacy where you had a prescription filled within the past three months. This is because the drug record administration guidance fee is lower as described below.

  • If you bring your drug notebook to a pharmacy where you had a prescription filled within the past three months: 430 yen per prescription filled
  • Cases other than the above: 570 yen per prescription filled

If you made a 30% copayment, bring your drug history handbook when returning to the pharmacy within three months to have your copayment reduced by 40 yen.

How to find a pharmacy that stocks generic drugs

The Japanese Association of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines grants its “Gold Mark” certification to pharmacies stocking at least 300 types of generic drugs and its “Silver Mark” certification to pharmacies that have declared their intent to actively comply with patient requests to switch to generic drugs and answer questions about generics. We recommend a pharmacy that displays one of these marks.

The Japan Association of Generic and Biosimilar Medicines' “Gold Mark” and “Silver Mark”

Gold Mark

Silver Mark

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You can also try switching to generics temporarily

If you are worried about switching suddenly to generic drugs, you can split the number of days of the prescription. For example, for a four-week prescription, you can have the prescription filled for just the first week, then have the prescription for the remaining three weeks filled if there are no problems with the medicine. (This is called split dispensing.) When you use this split prescription system, you must pay the pharmacy a generic drugs split dispensing fee. Ask your pharmacist for more information.

Try using “a generic drug request card”

If you consult a doctor at a medical care institution or get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, you can present this card together with your health insurance card, patient card, and other documents to make it easier to indicate your preference for generic drugs.

Click here to print

“Generic drug request card”