When a drug loses patent protection, often only one generic version is on sale for the first six months, so the price falls a little bit initially. Then, several other generic makers typically jump in, driving prices down dramatically.
Last year, the average generic prescription cost $72, versus $198 for the average brand-name drug, according to consulting firm Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions. Those figures average all prescriptions, from short-term to 90-day ones.
Average copayments last year were $6 for generics, compared with $24 for brand-name drugs given preferred status by an insurer and $35 for nonpreferred brands, according to IMS Health.
Among the drugs that recently went off patent, Protonix, for severe heartburn, now costs just $16 a month for the generic, versus about $170 for the brand name. And of the top sellers that soon will have competition, Lipitor retails for about $150 a month, Plavix costs almost $200 a month and blood pressure drug Diovan costs about $125 a month. For those with drug coverage, their out-of-pocket costs for each of those drugs could drop below $10 a month.
Jo Kelly, a retired social worker in Conklin, Mich., and her husband, Ray, a retired railroad mechanic, each take Lipitor and two other brand-name medicines, plus some generic drugs. Both are 67, and they land in the Medicare prescription “doughnut hole,” which means they must pay their drugs’ full cost by late summer or early fall each year. That pushes their monthly cost for Lipitor to about $95 each, and their combined monthly prescription cost to nearly $1,100.
Generic Lipitor should hit pharmacies Nov. 30 and cost them around $10 each a month.
“It would be a tremendous help for us financially,” she says. “It would allow us to start going out to eat again.”
For people with no prescription coverage, the coming savings on some drugs could be much bigger. Many discount retailers and grocery chains sell the most popular generics for $5 a month or less to draw in shoppers.
The impact of the coming wave of generics will be widespread _ and swift.
Insurers use systems that make sure patients are switched to a generic the first day it’s available. Many health plans require newly diagnosed patients to start on generic medicines. And unless the doctor writes “brand only” on a prescription, if there’s a generic available, that’s almost always what the pharmacist dispenses.
“A blockbuster drug that goes off patent will lose 90 percent of its revenue within 24 months. I’ve seen it happen in 12 months,” says Ben Weintraub, a research director at Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions.
The looming revenue drop is changing the economics of the pharmaceutical industry.
In the 1990s, big pharmaceutical companies were wildly successful at creating pills that millions of people take every day for long-term conditions, from heart disease and diabetes to osteoporosis and chronic pain. The drugs are enormously profitable compared with drugs that are prescribed for short-term ailments.
The patents on those blockbusters, which were filed years before the drugs went on sale, last for 20 years at most, and many expire soon.
In recent years, many drug companies have struggled to develop new blockbuster drugs, despite multibillion-dollar research budgets and more partnerships with scientists at universities and biotech companies. The dearth of successes, partly because the “easy” treatments have already been found, has turned the short-term prognosis for “big pharma” anemic.View Entire Story
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