Wellpoint says no to Lipitor, yes to generic

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As of April 1, many Wellpoint customers will be given a choice when they go to fill their Lipitor prescription: generic Lipitor or...generic Lipitor.

The change comes as an inordinate number of patients are showing up at pharmacy counters armed with Lipitor $4 co-pay cards. The generic-only policy will go into effect in 12 of the 14 states Wellpoint covers, just four months after the cholesterol-lowering drug lost its patent protection.

New York and California consumers will still be able to get Lipitor because state laws do not allow what are called covered blocks. However, spokesperson Lori McLaughlin noted that these patients won't be able to get the branded ‘script right away. Instead, they will have to try generic Lipitor first and will be eligible for Lipitor only if the generic fails to work.

Wellpoint said the change is a practical one, and the generic-only approach is not a new one for the company. McLaughlin said the company adopted a similar strategy with proton pump inhibitors, non sedating antihistamines and allergy eye drops.

She said she was not sure if consumers fought against those previous generic-only transitions and said she had not seen a massive response to the Thursday Wall Street Journal article which covered the story, other than a brief spike in Tweets.

A quick Twitter check on Monday showed the status quo; many of the Tweets merely recapped the Journal's  headline. However, Wellpoint is only at the beginning of its communication strategy.

As for the financial benefit the change could mean for the insurer, McLaughlin said she was unable to share those numbers.

Generic Lipitor has taken a major bite out of Pfizer's sales – the blockbuster drug's market share shriveled to 32% seven weeks after patent protection disappeared.

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