Lipitor will be generic and much cheaper soon

Pfizer's Lipitor is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S, taken by almost 4.3 million Americans. It's a once daily statin that's taken to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Lipitor currently costs about $150 a month, but could plummet as low as $5 on some drug plans when its patent expires in November 2011.
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There may be plenty of bargains out there for consumers on Black Friday, but the biggest of all may come next Thursday. That's the day that Lipitor, the most popular prescription drug in America, will become available in generic form.

CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports that this will mean big savings for millions of people.

It's not every day the best selling drug in history goes generic, but it's happening for the 3.3 million patients, like Raj Chhikara, who depend on Lipitor to lower their cholesterol.

"This is a life saving drug in some ways," Chhikara said.

It is now a life saving drug that's about to get cheaper for patients.

Starting this coming Thursday most copayments for Lipitor and its generic will drop from $25 per month to a generic copayment of $10 -- for an average savings of $180 dollars per year.

Historically, brand name drugs that go generic drop in price 90 percent in the first year.

Based on Lipitor's sales of $7.2 billion last year, this one generic drug should save the overall U.S. system $6.5 billion.

But that kind of money has led Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor to launch an aggressive marketing campaign.

Offering wholesale discounts so large, some drug benefit companies have told pharmacies to keep filling prescriptions with brand name Lipitor and warning the "generic (called) atorvastatin will not be covered."

Pharmacists like Stacey Swartz, owner of the Neighborhood Pharmacy in Alexandria Virginia, will in some cases make more money for dispensing Lipitor, instead of the generic. She says she will even fill generic prescriptions with brand name drugs sometimes.

An advocacy group called Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency, says Pfizer, by freezing out the generic, could cost the insurance industry and Federal government an extra "$35 more per prescription."

Pfizer rejects that, telling CBS News its new prices for Lipitor are "at or below the cost of a generic to both payers and patients."

Its that true, the cost of Lipitor is about to plummet not just for patients but for insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid -- as the blockbuster drug of all time delivers blockbuster savings.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.