September 22, 2014 4:00 PM EDT

More and more Americans are buying the cheaper generic versions of prescription drugs, new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows.

In 2006, Walmart introduced what would become one of many generic drug discount programs that allowed people to pay just $4 to fill prescriptions of generic drugs. The program was meant to help people meet difficult medical costs–especially more vulnerable groups like the elderly and low-income populations.

At first, the program didn’t appear to gain a lot of traction. In 2007, only 3.6% of patients receiving prescription drugs were partaking in a program. But similar programs popped up at other pharmaceutical retailers like Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens and has since gotten much more popular.

The researchers looked at a 2010 national household survey of health care usage among patients over age 18 who had at least one prescription during that year. They found that among the 13,486 adults identified in the survey as having at least one drug prescription, 3,208 were users of generic drug discount programs, and overall program use was at about 23%–much higher than the 3.6% participation rate three years earlier.

Researchers also found that people who were elderly, sick, uninsured and living in rural areas were more likely to participate in the programs, but interestingly, there were no significant differences across education levels or race/ethnicity groups. “Generic drug discount programs were not considered inferior despite the common perception that generic drugs are of poor quality,” the study authors write. “In fact, generic drug discount programs offer convenience by not requiring insurance claims to be filed.”

The researchers think the mere fact that more pharmaceutical retailers have offered similar programs is one of the reasons there’s greater uptake across the board, and while participation could still be higher, plenty of people of different backgrounds are taking part in the cost savings programs.

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