Some of the most popular and expensive brand-name drugs are about to go generic, Kaiser Health News reports.
In November, the cholesterol drug Lipitor drug comes off-patent, and by next June, there are likely to be multiple generic versions.
With almost $11 billion in sales last year, it's the largest blockbuster to fall off what analysts call the "patent cliff." And it's just one of dozens of popular high-end pharmaceuticals whose prices are expected to plummet in the coming years, including drugs such as Plavix for heart disease, Seroquel for depression, and Nexium for heartburn.
Patients often pay more for name-brand drugs, even when they're covered by insurance. Sometimes they have no choice because, unlike Lipitor, many drugs don't yet have generic competition.
Cardiologist Howard Weintraub of New York University says many patients taking those drugs come in and beg for free samples. Others simply don't fill their prescriptions—or they do, but then try to stretch their resources by taking the pricey pills less often than they're supposed to.
"People come in with their blood pressure not as well controlled, or they come in and their cholesterol's all of a sudden mysteriously higher. And you realize, OK, the medicine hasn't stopped working, but you also realize the medicine doesn't work when it's still in the bottle," he says.
Generics already represent 70 percent to 80 percent of drug sales—a dominance expected to grow in the future. Michael Kleinrock, of marketing research firm IMS Health, says patent expirations over the last half-decade are one of the main reasons Medicare spent $50 billion less than federal officials projected five years earlier. Kleinrock says the average daily cost of drugs dropped one-third from 2005 to 2010, and should drop another third between now and 2015.
This story is part of a reporting partnership among NPR, Kaiser Health News, and NPR member stations.