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Pfizer Discount Keeps Brand-Name Lipitor Cheap

Mon, 06/02/2014 - 8:44am
Linda A. Johnson, AP Business Writer

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- Patients who prefer brand-name cholesterol drug Lipitor to an inexpensive generic version will find it more affordable, thanks to a new discount offer from drug maker Pfizer Inc.

They'll be able to get Lipitor, the highest-selling prescription medicine in history, for $30 or less per month— not much more than a generic — under Pfizer's Lipitor Choice program.

Patients who get a discount card at www.lipitor.com can receive a month's supply for $30 if they have no insurance, are covered under Medicare or Affordable Care Act exchange plans, or have commercial insurance with a copayment of more than $130. If they have commercial insurance with a co-pay of $130 or less, it will cost them $4. Pfizer will pay the pharmacy any difference.

The program is New York-based Pfizer's latest effort to hang onto revenue from Lipitor, which generated nearly $13 billion in annual sales at its 2006 peak. Its patent expired in November 2011 in the U.S. and soon after in other major markets, allowing cheap copycat versions to flood pharmacies.

Lipitor Choice cards are accepted at about 98 percent of U.S. pharmacies, according to Pfizer, which is running the program until the end of 2015.

"We are very keen to see how patients and physicians respond," Sean Rapson, head of innovation for Pfizer's established products business, told The Associated Press. "If there's great interest, we would consider trying it with (our) other medicines."

Sales normally would have been nearly wiped out within a couple years. But Pfizer, the world's second-biggest drug maker, tried a unique strategy to retain many of the roughly 3.5 million Americans then taking the white oval tablets. Its Lipitor For You program offered discount cards letting patients get a month's supply for $4, and more than 750,000 people signed up.

Between that program and Lipitor's popularity in poorer countries where counterfeit drugs are so prevalent, it still generated $2.3 billion in sales last year, $432 million of that in the U.S.

Prescription drug coupons have been widely available for years, but only for newer, generally pricey, brand-name drugs with no generic competition.

Pfizer's industry-first Lipitor For You offer didn't sit well with insurers, because patients who normally would have switched to a cheaper generic didn't, forcing health plans to cover much of the cost of more-expensive Lipitor. A couple other drugmakers followed Pfizer's lead when their top sellers got generic competition, so U.S. insurers made it harder for patients to use such discount cards, even excluding those brand-name drugs from coverage.

Even at $4 a month, Pfizer can make a small profit, because pills cost roughly a dime to manufacture.

By comparison, generic Lipitor, called atorvastatin, sells for about $8 to $20 per month. Pfizer's brand-name Lipitor retails for about $170 to $240 per month, depending on the dosage.

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