Anti-cholesterol drug price to fall by 20 per cent

Further prices drops forecast for a range of generic drugs over coming year

 New measures next month will promote  greater use of generic drugs. Photograph: Bloomberg

New measures next month will promote greater use of generic drugs. Photograph: Bloomberg


The price of one of the most heavily used medicines in Ireland will fall by 20 per cent next month under new measures to promote the greater use of generic drugs.

Although atorvastatin, an anti-cholesterol drug used by tens of thousands of Irish patients, will still be almost four times dearer than in Northern Ireland or Britain, the move is significant because it heralds similar price falls for a range of medicines in the coming year.

The original branded version of the drug was sold under the brand name Lipitor.

The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) yesterday published its first list of interchangeable medicines, covering 96 different versions of atorvastatin, thereby triggering the price reduction agreed last year with drugs manufacturers. Similar lists covering 19 other compounds are to be published over the next year, and will lead to corresponding price cuts for those substances.

Reference price
Prices should fall further in November, when the HSE publishes a reference price for atorvastatin, representing the maximum amount it will pay for any of the versions of the product on the list. As well as cutting the cost of the State’s drugs bill, the measure will encourage generic drugs manufacturers to reduce their prices to the level of the reference price. The savings made will depend on the reference price set for each drug.

An alternative
The IMB said the publication of the list meant a pharmacist “may” offer patients an alternative from the list. It said patients should talk to their pharmacist or doctor if they have any questions.

After November, consumers will have to decide whether to choose the less expensive medicine and save money. For those on a medical card or using the drug payment scheme, the HSE will pay the full reference price. If consumers wish to stick with the medicine on their prescription, even if this is a higher price, those on a medical card will have to pay the difference between the reference price and the retail price.

The Irish Pharmacy Union said the move would lead to lower medicine prices as well as saving the State money. It warned Minister for Health James Reilly to take a “careful and measured approach” to the introduction of reference pricing.

Pharmacists say medicine shortages could result if this price is set too low.