UnitedHealth, Coventry scrutinized for favoring brand-name drug

UnitedHealthcare and Coventry are being investigated for their role in Pfizer's attempt to block new generic competition in favor of its cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.

Since Lipitor lost its patent Nov. 30, Pfizer has allegedly attempted to preserve its market share by offering discounts to health insurance companies and pharmacy benefits managers so they would continue covering Lipitor, reports the New York Times.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), wrote to UnitedHealth, Coventry, Pfizer and other companies, requesting details about their agreements. The senators also implied they would continue the investigation to determine if the rebates from Pfizer to UnitedHealth and Coventry are noted as rebates instead of fees, according to MedPage Today.

"Consumers and taxpayers foot the bill when drug benefit companies and insurers manipulate the marketplace to prevent access to generic drugs for millions of Americans," Kohl said. "We hope that scrutiny into these business practices will restore fairness and open the gates to affordable prescription drug choices and tremendous cost savings."

Pfizer said it merely intends to offer Lipitor to insurers and patients at or below the cost of the generic for the first six months after the patent expired. "Participation in Pfizer's programs by a health plan is entirely voluntary," Pfizer spokesperson MacKay Jimeson told the Times.

Meanwhile, WellPoint said it won't put Lipitor on its generics list and will instead favor a copy made by Watson Pharmaceuticals, according to Bloomberg.

To learn more:
- read the Senators' press release and letters
- read the New York Times article
- see the MedPage article
- check out the Bloomberg article

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