Several days ago, the world’s leading cholesterol-lowering “statin” drug, Lipitor, went generic. Doctors are bearing the brunt of the conversion with little information about what the new drug will cost for their patients.
Even the Wall Street Journal which has an excellent “user’s guide” to making the switch from name-brand to generic Lipitor offers little help as it mentions “co-pays” rather than actual drug cost:
How much cheaper will generic Lipitor be?
Insurance copayments should drop considerably, if patients are getting Lipitor or atorvastatin on the generic tier of their health plans. Currently, Lipitor has been on a higher, branded tier for prescription drugs. Copays for branded drugs average either $29 or $49 depending on the tier, according to Kaiser Family Foundation. Copays for generics average $10.
In addition, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, one of the generic manufacturers of generic Lipitor, won concessions to maintain elevated prices for 180 days from the government (a la our own Food and Drug Administration while the Federal Trade Commission stands idly by complaining how consumers are gouged with this arrangement) to assure prices stay high a bit longer.
But if we forget the insurers and copays, how much will the generic drug actually cost consumers?
No one will tell you.
That’s because everyone else has to make sure they make their cut first. Pharmacy benefit managers, the leeches attached to nearly every prescription written today, have to strong-arm their position in the ever-competitive pharmaceutical profit by “pre-negotiating” prices for consumers wed to even more insurance plans with varying deductibles and co-pays.
Even Pfizer, not wanting to exclude itself from the profits inherent to such a non-transparent system is offering it’s own “generic version” through Watson Pharmaceuticals. Theoretically it would be good for the public to have multiple generic manufacturers competing for generic Liptor’s market, driving prices down. However, this natural self-regulating market function cannot occur to the benefit of consumers due to the blocking of actual drug price comparison.
Insisting on tranparent retail pricing of the medication’s pre-insurance costs would greatly facilitate consumer choice of statin in the doctor’s office. Someday, one could imagine a Consumer Reports spreadsheet in the same way they rate appliances and automobiles.
But then again, it seems we can’t do that because it would serve the function of weeding out our hidden pharmaceutical middlemen.