THOUSANDS of private patients on the most commonly prescribed dosage of cholesterol-lowering drugs could save €90 a year or more thanks to a new pricing regime that comes into force today.
For the first time, the HSE is implementing a set factory price, which it will pay, for the drugs known as statins.
Almost all manufacturers are expected to sell the cholesterol-reducing drugs at the factory price.
The pharmacist adds their mark-up and dispensing fee afterwards, but the reduction in the factory price will result in an overall price reduction for the private patients who are prescribed the drug.
The new set price applies to Atorvastatin, which is the active ingredient in the most widely used statin.
The price reduction will apply to the branded version, Lipitor, as well as other generic equivalents.
Most patients who are taking Atorvastatin are on 10mg and take one tablet a day to control their cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Under the new pricing regime, the factory price of a packet of 28 10mg tablets is set at €3.47. A pack of 20mg tablets will be set at €5.46 and 40mg doses will be €9.14. The highest dosage of tablets, at 80mg, will cost €10.53.
The final cost at the till of a month's supply to a private patient will vary depending on the mark-up and dispensing fee, which the pharmacist will add on to the factory price – but the price cut, when passed on, could mean a month's supply would be up to €8 cheaper.
The savings for those on the higher doses will be even bigger. The factory price of Lipitor will fall from €13.50 to €5.46.
The Department of Health said the reductions were due to the introduction of reference pricing, which is being phased in for different drugs to treat various conditions.
The reference price is the set sum that the HSE will reimburse pharmacies for drugs which are interchangeable, even though they may be made by different manufacturers.
A spokeswoman for Pfizer, which makes Lipitor, said that the drug has been the same price as the generic Atorvastatin for the past two months.
"Medical card patients can stay on Lipitor at no increased cost and as our price has reduced very significantly, other patients should also see a benefit. The price today, November 1, is 60pc less than it was yesterday and the manufacturing price of Lipitor is now the same as in Spain."
Darragh O'Loughlin, head of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said pharmacists had been keeping their stocks of these statins low in anticipation of the new pricing system and customers should see the difference.
Junior health minister Alex White said the new prices were 70pc less than the HSE was paying for the same drugs in May.
"Atorvastatin products were addressed first because they are the highest cost group of products reimbursed by the HSE," Mr White said.
About 250,000 Irish people take some dosage of statin.
The new reference price will narrow the gap between the cost of these drugs in the Republic and pharmacies in Northern Ireland.
The next set of drugs which will be subject to reference pricing from December 1 are treatments for stomach ulcers.
Cork-born Dr Pixie McKenna, who is a presenter on Channel 4's 'Embarrassing Bodies', added her support for generic medicines: "A generic drug is equivalent to a branded drug in terms of strength, effectiveness, quality and safety although they might look different in terms of their shape, colour or size."
She said research by drug firm Actavis found 85pc of adults were happy using a generic pill if it was cheaper than a branded alternative.