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Drug Prices: An Update

2015-02-14

In my first blog entry some three and a half years ago (August 14, 2011) I mentioned that Lipitor is overpriced at $150 a month.  Well, the patent on Lipitor has expired, and brand name Lipitor now costs $200 a month.   I don’t recall inflation being so high in the last three years… do you?  Fortunately, generic Lipitor is actually free if you subject yourself to a Medicare HMO called Blue Shield here in California.

The sad part is that when I went to get my generic Lipitor filled, there was an eighty-five year old man there getting his brand name Lipitor filled, and that is how I found out that the brand name drug has increased so much in price.

Any doctor who has studied the research will tell you that, at eighty-five, your average life expectancy is less than three years.   Taking Lipitor (even the brand name) will extend your life, at that point, an average of about a week altogether.  So this man was willing to spend $7,200 to extend his life for a week.  Not bad, if you can afford it.

Actually, he looked pretty good, so maybe I’m exaggerating.   Maybe he’ll live six years, get two weeks extra, and it will only cost him $7,200 a week.

The moral of the story is that the people who should be taking Lipitor are those in their fifties and sixties who are likely to gain several years of life by its consumption.

Then there’s the quality of life issue: maybe, just maybe, your quality of life will be acceptable for a longer period of time if you take Lipitor (by avoiding that heart attack for a while.)  That could be worth a lot of money.  If you can afford it.

Note to my father: none of this applies to you.  Take your Lipitor.

There’s more: in the past year or two, some generic drugs have gone up in price by five or ten times. The average generic seems to have doubled in price. There is no single explanation for this phenomenon, although when pressed, companies have claimed that expenses have increased dramatically… to update and maintain manufacturing facilities, for example. In most cases, however, what has really happened is that there has been consolidation of drug companies such that where three or four manufacturers supplied a generic, now only one does so. Which creates a monopoly, making it easy to raise prices without losing market share.

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