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New Lipitor generics: What you need to know

Lipitor, the world's best-selling drug, will lose its patent protection on Wednesday.

That's a big change for Pfizer, the company that made $11 billion on the the cholesterol-fighting drug last year - and for the 19 million people worldwide that take statin drugs.

But should people make the switch to the less expensive generic versions that are sure to hit the market or stay with the prescription brand Lipitor?

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist, said on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," said she's been talking with her patients about making the switch to generic Lipitor - known as atorvastatin - for a month.

She explained, "These are really hard times economically for people, and they can't afford their medication. Lipitor has been a very powerful drug in terms of lowering cholesterol and lowering risk for heart disease. Now patients can have it at a cheaper price and also reduce their risk for heart disease."

The drug will have the same active ingredient, but will have filler ingredients different from the brand Lipitor, Goldberg said.

She explained, "It will have the same cholesterol lowering capacity. What will be different are the fillers. So instead of being oblong and white, the pill could be round or yellow, pink or green. ... It's just about the look of the drug, that's why it's important for people to carry a list of their medications. You can't go by the color and say to your doctor, 'I'm on the pink pill.'"

However, Goldberg advised patients still confer with their doctor before making the switch.

"I think it's very important for patients to ask their doctors about which statin is right for them," she said.

However, the drug isn't going to be the same price for everyone.

Goldberg advised, "(When you go to the generic) - just like you would buy a television set during the holiday season - do comparative pricing. Call your drug plan. Go to your local pharmacy. Go to Costco and Walmart and find out the prices and find the best one for you.

"For people who have prescription insurance, it could be as low as $10 a month, so that's impressive."

Goldberg added, "(That would be) a lot lower for somebody who doesn't have insurance and has to pay out-of-pocket where it's (now) costing $150 to $200 a month (for Lipitor)."

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