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Doctors brace for prescription drug policy changes

A policy change by health insurer Capital District Physicians Health Plan to make a switch from prescribing brand name drugs, such as Lipitor and Crestor, to generic drugs in order to cut down health-care costs has some physicians celebrating and others ready to fight back.

In a memo to practitioners, CDPHP stated that during a June 16 meeting with the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, made up of 17 voting member-physicians and two voting member-physicians who practice in the community, the health insurer will no longer be covering brand-name drugs and begin issuing generic drugs when prescribing medication for high cholesterol.

The changes will go into effect on Oct. 10.

We're constantly looking for ways to balance the costs for our patients, said CDPHP Public Relations Manager Kristin Marshall. "The perception out there is brought on by the marketing of brand-name drugs, but no one is marketing generic drugs."

The decision was made in order to cut down on rising health-care costs, said Marshall, who added that there are drugs out there that can perform in the same way as the brand-name drugs at a lower cost.

"There might be a slight molecular difference, but we wouldn't be making this decision if we thought it was wrong," she said.

With Crestor, a 40 mg dose will reduce a patient's cholesterol by 50 to 55 percent, according to Dr. Russell Zivkovich, who owns a family practice in Cohoes, while a patient using an 80 mg simvastatin, or the most effective generic brand, must take an 80 mg dosage to reduce their cholesterol by 47 percent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a study in March 2010 finding "an increased risk of muscle injury in patients taking the highest approved dose of the cholesterol-lowering medication, Zocor (simvastatin) 80 mg, compared to patients taking lower doses of simvastatin and possibly other drugs in the 'statin' class."

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