One of the world’s best selling drugs just became more affordable. Insurance provider Cigna changed the status of Lipitor, Pfizer’s $12 billion cholesterol drug, to “preferred” in an effort to help its 6.5 million members get access to the branded medication.
“We are constantly monitoring drugs that will go generic in the next couple of years, and try to negotiate payments that would allow us to move the expensive non-preferred drugs to preferred status,” said Lindsay Shearer, Cigna spokeswoman for pharmacy management. “This allows us to get as many people onto the drugs as possible in the time period between now and when the drug goes generic.”
Cigna’s strategy is to help people save money now, and easily fill the generic prescription once it becomes available—avoiding the cost of visiting the doctor for a new prescription.
“If they are on another drug in the class right now, they would have to get a prescription from their doctor to get generic Lipitor,” Shearer told Pharm Exec on Tuesday. “People taking another medication because it was less expensive can now have access to Lipitor. and switch to the generic as soon as it become available.”
Like most health insurance providers, Cigna sets costs to its members based on a three-tier formulary: generic, preferred brand, and non-preferred brand drugs, with costs increasing as a drug moves up in tiers.
While the cost-savings come at a time when the public is struggling to make ends meet, Cigna says that it wasn’t necessarily a factor in the tier change. “This is part of our ongoing strategy, and we are very pleased that we are able to make this happen at a time when we are in such a difficult situation with the economy,” Shearer said.
The company would not disclose how its payment structure with Pfizer would change now that the drug has become cheaper to sell. “Clearly, Pfizer is our partner in this and they are working with us to make sure that our members have access to Lipitor at a lower cost.”
Positive Lipitor Study
In related news, Pfizer announced last Wednesday that patients on Lipitor saw a 13 percent drop in the risk of cardiovascular events compared to patients taking Zocor (simvastatin). The observational study examined 219,000 patients ages18 to 64 that never took a statin and showed no signs of prior heart problems.
“This latest analysis suggest(s) that patients who are treated with Lipitor may have a reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event compared with patients who use simvastatin,” stated Michael Berelowitz, senior vice president of Pfizer’s global medical division, in a release. “Findings such as these should be taken into account by those who may assume that medicines in a therapeutic class are interchangeable, and provide similar outcomes.”