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Good News for Patients, Bad News for Big Pharma: Your 20 years is up

  • August 10, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

According to U.K. research firm EvaluatePharma Ltd., the next year or so will see an unprecedented number of common brand name drugs go off patent. This will open the door to generic medications for the most oft-prescribed drugs used to treat blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma, diabetes, HIV, bipolar disorder, and other common ailments. Over the next 10 years, about 120 brands will lose market exclusivity, and low-cost generics will flood the market.

Given the current uncertain politics surrounding health care, this will be come as welcome news to 76 million aging baby boomers. Within 14 months, 4.3 Americans will see their cholesterol-lowering Lipitor prescription prices drop, and another 1.4 million patients on Plavix will be lowering their chance of stroke for a lot less money.

Consumers, insurance companies, and taxpayers will all benefit from a reduction in the high cost of commonly prescribed drugs. Generic prices usually run 20% to 80% less, and no matter who carries most of the cost, we all win.

Doctors are hoping that the reduction in prescription costs leads to better adherence. Patients who can’t afford their medications put themselves at risk for a host of complications, not the least of which is the unhealthy shock of stopping and starting potentially dangerous medications with little supervision.

Even people with prescription coverage can’t always afford the copays for brand-name medicines. IMS Health statistics reveal that copays for generic drugs averaged $6 last year, while brand-name drugs cost four times that…or more. For a patient on multiple medications, the copays can run into hundreds, especially for cancer or HIV patients. Seniors in the Medicare “doughnut hole” who are struggling to make ends meet while paying excessively for medications will feel immediate and profound relief. Big box stores like Target and Walmart will eagerly add generic Lipitor to their $4 prescription lists to lure in those 4.3 million customers.

There’s also an exponential value to lower cost drugs. People who can afford to take their medications will develop fewer complications. This means less loss time at work, fewer doctor appointments, emergency room visits, and fewer hospitalizations. It’s good for patients, good for the corporate world, and will help relieve the burden faced by the taxpayers. It would have been good fodder for the healthcare proponent cannons. I wonder why the plummeting cost of medications in coming years never entered the discussions. Too complicated for talking points?

While customers are celebrating, pharmaceutical companies are gearing up for major financial setbacks. There aren’t enough new drugs in the pipeline awaiting FDA approval to make up for the coming losses. We may see some corporate restructuring, less advertising (Frankly, I could do with a lot less advertising. The ubiquitous commercials for depression medications are downright…depressing), and layoffs across the board as the companies struggle to find a new balance. They’ll recover. They always do.

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