By Stephanie Stahl

Stephanie Stahl reports…

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The blockbuster cholesterol lowering drug Lipitor loses its patent tomorrow. Then cheaper generics will be available. So what does that mean for the millions of Americans who take it? 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl is here to clear up any confusion.

Pfizer’s drug Lipitor is the most popular prescription medication of all time. It’s taken by millions of people, generating over $10 billion in sales last year. Now that it’s going generic, users will be saving a whole lot of money.

80-year-old Louis Tedeschi, of Cherry Hill, is among the 8.7 million Americans who take Lipitor to control his cholesterol, a fat in the blood that causes heart disease.

“I think it’s a wonderful drug. It’s helped me a great deal over the years,” said Louis.

It’s also helping his wife, Frances Tedeschi. But it’s come at a high cost.

“It is extremely expensive,” said Frances.

“$159 a month. And between that and all the other medications, it keeps you pretty much broke,” said Louis. So they’re thrilled the generic Lipitor, a statin medication called Atorvastatin, will soon be available and will cost much less.

“As it becomes generic, a lot more patients will have the opportunity to afford this medication. I think that’s a good thing for everybody,” said Dr. Perry Weinstock, a Cardiologist at Cooper University Hospital.

He says that’s because insurance will now cover the generic version, which is less expensive.

And the price of brand name Lipitor is also expected to drop, by as much as 90 percent.

But a big question for many patients, like the Tedeschis, is will the generic version be as effective?

“It should work the same. The generic will be a different shape, a different color, but the chemistry of it should be the same,” said Dr. Weinstock.

“Without having a prescription plan it’s going to make it a lot easier for us. And as long as it does the same job, we’re thrilled,” said Frances.

Generally, health plans determine which drugs their members receive, brand name or generic. Some have arranged for patients to stay on brand name for at least the next 180 days, but at generic prices.

Pfizer is offering a promotion for patients to pay as little as $4 a prescription for branded Lipitor through the end of next year.

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS3

Stephanie Stahl