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Patents end: big-name drugs at generic prices

July 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the coming months, millions of Americans will get to keep more money in their wallets. New generic drugs will reduce co-payments and slash prices.

Starting in October, drug companies will start rolling out generic versions of several widely used but expensive drugs.

The top two sellers are the cholesterol drug Lipitor and the blood-thinner Plavix, which cost many patients hundreds of dollars a month.

For millions, it's a magic drug: Without Lipitor, 43-year-old Rob Marchuck's cholesterol level would be 225 instead of 150. He's been taking it for 10 years, but the price is still hard to swallow.

"I've gone from about $25 a month to $100 a month because now I have to pay out-of-pocket versus my insurance," said Marchuk.

But all that is about to change for Lipitor users and those who take several other top-selling drugs. In the next 14 months, drug patents will expire and generic versions will start to flood the market.

Generic drugs typically cost 20 to 80 percent less than their brand-name counterparts. Doctors hope the reduced prices will significantly reduce the number of patients who jeopardize their health because they can't afford the medications they need.

"Sometimes they don't tell you. They don't want you to know. They don't want their doctor who prescribed it necessarily to know that they're doing that," said Dr. Gerald Pohost, Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

Pohost says the high prices of Lipitor and the blood-thinner Plavix can run patients a few hundred dollars a month if they don't have insurance or if their plans don't cover it.

The average generic prescription cost is $72 versus $198 for the average brand-name drug. The upcoming price cuts are also a relief to doctors.

"I think now we can feel less guilty about patients being on these drugs that are so expensive," said Pohost.

Other drugs going generic include those for blood pressure, diabetes and depression. Some of the brand names are Singulair, Provigil and Diovan. One-hundred-twenty more drugs are expected to lose their patents in the next decade.

It'll save millions of Americans a personal fortune.

"I think it'll save money and time and I think this is perfect for this era of healthcare reform," said Pohost.

While there is some concern over the safety and effectiveness of generics, the Food and Drug Administration says these drugs go through the same rigorous testing process as the brand names.

As for the effectiveness of Lipitor and Plavix, doctors say most consumers won't notice any difference.

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