NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Ulcer Drug Goes Over-The-Counter

June 23, 2003

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved over-the-counter sales of Prilosec, the little purple ulcer and heartburn pill that not long ago was the top-selling prescription medicine in the world.

The decision benefits those who pay for the drug -- health insurers and people with no insurance -- and could roil the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Prilosec is expected to sell for less than $1 a pill when it becomes available without a prescription this fall, compared with $4 a pill now.
  • Few consumers who have health insurance will see any savings, because many managed care plans will stop paying for the drug altogether, health care executives said.
  • But older people of limited means who have no health insurance other than Medicare, which does not cover prescription drugs, stand to save hundreds of dollars a year.

Patients who take similar drugs, like Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix and Aciphex, may soon find that their health insurers have made the medications more expensive or harder to obtain, managed care executives said. Health plans have already been increasing the co-payments that members must make to get the prescription ulcer and heartburn pills.

  • Managed care executives say that over-the-counter medicines like Pepcid and even Tums work just fine for most sufferers.
  • The average out-of-pocket cost for Prilosec is $23.94 for a 30-pill bottle, said Ann Smith, a Medco spokeswoman.
  • For the other proton-pump inhibitors, she said, the average is $28.50.

Over-the-counter Prilosec is expected to have a retail price of $25 to $30 for a 30-pill bottle, and patients will no longer need to spend money and time seeing a physician to get it.

Source: Gardiner Harris, "F.D.A. Approves Over-Counter Sales of Top Ulcer Drug," New York Times, June 21, 2003.


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