As multiple patents on statins and other low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-lowering drugs expired between 2010 and 2018, a study published in JAMA Cardiology found that switching patients to generic cholesterol drugs saved Medicare billions of dollars.

According to the study, 9.5 million adults in the United States have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL, and most are advised to lower their LDL cholesterol through a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. Statins are the most popular option, with more than 35 million current prescriptions.

In the study, the authors used the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Event Database to analyze data between January 2014 and December 2018. During this period, they found that the number of Medicare Part D enrollees grew from 37.7 million to 44.2 million, and the total number of prescriptions for LDL-lowering drugs increased by 23%. 

Despite this increase, the study authors found that the number of prescriptions for generic drugs rose by 35% and overall spending on statins declined by 52%, from $4.8 billion in 2014 to $2.3 billion in 2018.

“One of the most important contributors to our health care costs is expenditure on prescription drugs,” said Ambarish Pandey, MD, in a press release. “The switch to generics is an effective strategy to cut the costs incurred by health systems.”

Notably, during the study period, Medicare still spent $9.6 billion on brand-name LDL-lowering medications and could have saved an additional $2.5 billion by switching to generics more quickly. For example, PCSK9 inhibitors became available in 2015, and the researchers found that prescriptions for these drugs were low, though they increased by 144% between 2016 and 2018.

“Statins are one of the most important drugs to study in this context because they’re just so widely prescribed,” Pandey said in the release. “But there are also other drugs that certainly have substantial costs to the health care system and need to be studied in this respect as well.”

REFERENCE
Generic cholesterol drugs save Medicare billions of dollars, study finds [news release]. UT Southwestern; September 9, 2020. https://www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/articles/year-2020/generic-cholesterol-drugs-save-medicare-billions-of-dollars.html. Accessed September 15, 2020.