From the GIC Winter 2010 Newsletter
"If you're taking Lipitor for high cholesterol and it's working, why switch?" If you've listened to the radio lately, you're probably familiar with this advertisement. The ad contends that Lipitor is one of the most effective cholesterol medications and that Lipitor may be a better choice than generic medications.
According to Consumer Reports, for a select group of high-risk patients, atorvastatin, the main ingredient in Lipitor, is a good choice. However, for most of the 20 million Americans taking a statin -- a class of cholesterol-lowering medications -- less expensive generic options are just as effective.
Generic drugs have the same active ingredients in the same dosage and strength as their brand name counterparts. A generic can have different inactive ingredients, such as color or flavoring agents. Of current statins, three - Zocor, Mevacor and Pravachol - are available as generics. Generics cost less than brand name medications: a September 2008 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the average brand name prescription price in 2007 was over three times the average generic price. A big factor that drives brand name drug costs is advertising.
Drug Advertisements are Effective
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation April 2008 study, drug manufacturers spent $10.4 billion on advertising in 2007: $3.7 billion on direct to consumer advertising and $6.7 billion on physician advertising. These ads are effective and have helped to make the pharmaceutical manufacturers one of the nation's most profitable industries with 15.8% in profits as a percent of revenues compared to 5.7% for all Fortune 500 firms in 2007. In 2008, 91% of adults saw or heard advertisements for prescription drugs, which led to changes in behavior according to the study:
- 32% of adults talked to their doctors about the drug they saw advertised
- For these adults, 82% of their doctors prescribed a prescription drug - 44% for the drug advertised and 54% for another drug
Make Informed Choices
Bring a copy of your prescription drug formulary list (those drugs with lower copays) with you to your doctor's office to discuss which drugs make sense for your particular condition. Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager for the UniCare State Indemnity Plans, mails all subscribers a new formulary at the beginning of January. Other GIC plans have the formulary on their website, or you can call the plan and have a copy mailed to you.
In particular, if you have high cholesterol and your doctor has determined that you need a statin, Consumer Reports recommends the following steps:
- Ask your doctor about generics for Mevacor or Pravachol if you need to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by less than 30 percent;
- Consider generic Zocor if you need 30 percent or greater LDL reduction or have heart disease or diabetes, or if you have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome and your LDL level is not high; or
- Ask about atorvastatin (Lipitor) if you have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome or your LDL is high
For additional information about your prescription drug benefits, contact Express Scripts (UniCare plan members) or your health plan.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.