4 in 5 Americans would choose generic drugs over brand name drugs, according to The Harris Poll conducted among American adults in December 2008.

In Substantial Increase in Public Preference for Generic over Brand Name Drugs, Harris found that the proportion of people who would more often pick branded drugs fell by nearly one-half, from 32% in October 2006 to 19% in December 2008.

The 93% of Americans who bought prescription drugs in 2008 increased purchases at discount stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club (owned by Wal-Mart). In October 2006, 13% of Americans bought drugs at these kinds of discounters; by December 2008, that proportion rose to 17%. Shopping for Rx’s online rose to 15% from 11%, and in supermarkets from 10% to 12%.

What retail channels fell in prominence between 2006 and 2008? The local independent pharmacy, which fell from 12% in October ’06 to 8% in December ’08; and, chain drug stores, which fell from 39% in 2006 to 33% in December 2008.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: This survey illustrates Americans’ approach to value-shopping in health care. Not only have Americans flocked to discounters for clothing, home goods, and food; their taste for value now inhabits health. The retail drug channels that grew over 2006-2008 were online, mail order, and discount stores. The Wal-Mart Effect has taken hold in prescription drugs — in a word, it’s generics.

And that’s because it’s about the downturn in the economy and financial incentives that consumers face for prescription drugs. A copay of zero dollars, to $4 for some generics at Wal-Mart or Target, to perhaps $10 for a generic is much more attractive to a health consumer than $25, or $35, or higher prices at the point-of-purchase.

Harris points out that this is good news for cost containment. That’s if you’re wearing a payer or plan sponsor hat, from Medicare to employers who provide health insurance.

But if you’re a branded pharmaceutical manufacturer in the R&D business of new-drug breakthroughs, it’s altogether a different implication.