Get free help preparing your taxes from AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. Find a location


AARP Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy
Bob Dylan Talks!


Military and Veterans Discount


You Could Choose Your Dream Vacation


Introducing RealPad by AARP


AARP Auto Buying Program


Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Download the ipad App



AARP Games - Play Now!

Learning Centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.


Heart Disease


Most Popular


As Lipitor Goes Off Patent, What Will Happen to Price of Your Prescription?

Pfizer strives to keep consumers, shut out generics

En español | The first generic version of the world's top-selling drug, the cholesterol-lowering Lipitor, is due to come on the market Dec. 1.

Sign up for AARP's Health Newsletter.

Drug market analysts have long speculated on the strategies Lipitor's manufacturer, Pfizer, might use to hold on to at least some of the profits for a blockbuster drug that has earned up to $12 billion a year over the past 15 years. But even experts were taken aback by the scale and ingenuity of the Pfizer counter-attack against generic competition. The drugmaker has launched an unprecedented campaign to persuade patients to stay with Lipitor instead of switching to the generic, atorvastatin.

Lipitor fights generic Lipitor for market share

Many blockbuster drugs are expected to lose patent protection over the next 12 months. — Image by R.O. Blechman

Typically, after a brand-name drug loses its patent, one other manufacturer gets six months to market a lower-cost generic copy exclusively — and prices it not far below the brand. After six months, other generic copies enter the market and prices plunge. Consequently, demand for the brand-name drug usually plunges, too. But Pfizer is trying to rewrite that playbook and keep Lipitor competitive — especially by making deals to block coverage of the new generic in some health plans.

That strategy was revealed in mid-November when three large pharmaceutical benefits management companies (PBMs), which act as middlemen negotiating prices between the drugmakers and insurance companies, told pharmacists that, from Dec. 1 through May 31, many of the health insurance plans they represent will cover brand-name Lipitor but not its generic.

"I was stunned," says Geoffrey Joyce, associate professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California. "I knew that Pfizer would be looking at ways to discourage consumers from using the generic. But blocking it completely seems like collusion between the manufacturer and large PBMs to prohibit a lower-cost drug."

Among other Pfizer strategies: setting up its own mail order pharmacy to sell Lipitor at generic prices to people in health insurance plans; offering discount cards to uninsured people; and launching a massive advertising campaign to promote brand loyalty, with the pitch: "If Lipitor is working for you, why switch?"

"This is not the first attempt by a manufacturer to extend the use and profitability of a brand drug past its patent expiration," says Joyce. "But clearly it's the most aggressive and multifaceted effort to date." The long-term strategy, he adds, is to get patients accustomed to using Lipitor "despite the availability of a generic."

How do such deals affect consumers? It depends on whether you're covered by an employer plan, or other private insurance plan, by a Medicare Part D drug plan, or you're not insured at all.

Next: Costs for people in private plans. >>

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Walgreens 1 discount membership aarp

Members get exclusive points offers from Walgreens, Duane Reade and

member benefit aarp hear usa

Members can save 20% on hearing aids with the AARP® Hearing Care Program provided by HearUSA.

AARP membership discount Man trying on eyeglasses at optometrists smiling

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at LensCrafters.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.