Should You Use Generic Cholesterol Medications?

If not, you have other options for saving money

If you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, you know that the monthly cost can add up, especially if the one you’re taking isn’t available in a generic (unbranded) form. And your overall costs can grow even more if you’re taking medications for other conditions besides your high cholesterol, such as diabetes.

But even if you’re concerned about the cost of your cholesterol medication, remember the important reason why you’re taking it—and don’t stop taking it unless your healthcare provider says it’s okay. High cholesterol by itself has no symptoms, but you’re not taking the medication to prevent “symptoms” of cholesterol: You’re taking it to prevent symptoms of heart disease. Going off your medication and allowing your cholesterol level to rise again could put you at greatly increased risk for heart disease and even a heart attack—costing far more to treat than the price of staying on your cholesterol-lowering medication.

The good news is that a number of cholesterol-lowering medications are available as less-costly generics. These generic cholesterol medications include:

  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Gemfibrozil (Lopid)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol XL)
  • Fenofibrate (Antara, Fenoglide, Tricor, Triglide)

Some medications are no longer sold under their original brand names but are still available as generics:

  • Lovastatin (originally marketed as Mevacor)
  • Pravastatin (originally marketed as Pravachol)
  • Cholestyramine (originally marketed as Questran)

If your medication is not available in generic form (or even if it is, and you’re still having trouble paying for it), you have several options that may help you save money.

Fish oil pills on counter
Cathy Scola / Getty Images

What You Can Do to Save Money 

Talk with your healthcare provider about less costly options. Your practitioner may be able to:

  1. Switch you to a cheaper medication, either a generic or a brand-name product with a lower price.
  2. Offer you samples of the brand-name form of the medication.
  3. Give you a voucher from the drug company to buy the brand-name medication at a lower cost.

Ask about cutting higher-dose pills in half. It may be possible for you to buy your medication in a form that’s twice your prescribed dose and then cut the pills in half to take them. (Note: This isn’t possible for every cholesterol-lowering medication.) For instance, if you take simvastatin 40 mg every day, your healthcare provider may prescribe simvastatin 80 mg, with dosing specified as a one-half pill taken daily.

No generic available? Call the drug company. Some drug companies have prescription assistance programs that may allow you to get your medication at no or minimal cost. Check out your pharmacy, too: Some offer discount programs on medications. You should also know that medication prices can differ from one pharmacy to another. Check around to find the lowest price in your area.

Ask if you can take over-the-counter (OTC) products. If you take prescription omega-3 fatty acids (Lovaza) or extended-release niacin (Niacor) to lower your cholesterol, talk with your healthcare provider about taking an OTC version of your medication.

You need to know that fish oil and niacin OTC products are not therapeutically equivalent to their prescription counterparts. However, if your healthcare provider says you can take one or more of them, they may be able to help you lower your cholesterol while putting a smaller dent in your pocketbook. Keep in mind, however, that although they are widely available and cheaper than prescription medications, OTC products may not be right for everyone.

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  1. Ito MK. A comparative overview of prescription omega-3 fatty acid products. P T. 2015;40(12):826-57. PMID: 26681905