Experts warn of disruptions amid discontinuation of popular inhaler

At the start of 2024, GSK is discontinuing Flovent, its popular branded asthma inhaler, and switching to a generic version. The generic is virtually identical, though physicians are worried that delays in securing insurance coverage will cause disruptions for patients, CNN reported Dec. 28. 

GSK introduced authorized generic versions of Flovent HFA, an inhalation aerosol, in May 2022, and Flovent Diskus, an inhalation powder, in October 2023. Starting Jan. 1, the company will discontinue manufacturing the branded versions and shift fully to the authorized generics, which a spokesperson for the company said could provide patients with "potentially lower cost alternatives." 

However, because the generic does not appear to be covered as widely by insurers, many patients will likely have to get new prescriptions. To minimize any disruptions, physicians are urging patients to work out any potential barriers now to ensure they have access to their medication heading into the new year. 

"This medication has been the most commonly used inhaled medication for the past 25 or 30 years," Robyn Cohen, MD, director of the pediatric pulmonary and allergy clinic at Boston Medical Center, told CNN. "It’s the one that, overwhelmingly, pediatricians reach for when they decide that their patient needs a daily preventive medication. …The fact that it’s being discontinued is going to be a huge shock to the system for patients, for families and for doctors."

Experts are also concerned about poor timing amid the winter respiratory virus season. 

"Flu, Covid, RSV — all these circulating viruses that are going around right now — are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, triggers for asthma attacks in kids," Dr. Cohen said. "This is what leads to kids being in the emergency room."

Industry analysts believe GSK's move is linked to a Medicaid legal change going into effect at the start of the new year, which will remove a cap on rebates companies are required to pay if they raise the prices of their drugs more than inflation. The switch to generics without the branding and history of price increases would be a way for GSK to avoid potential penalties under the new rebate policy. 

"Obviously pharma doesn’t want to be selling at a loss on anything in its portfolio," Andrew Baum, an analyst who covers the stock of GSK and other pharmaceutical companies for the financial firm Citi, told CNN. "So it seeks to evade impact by, one: discontinuation; two: authorized generic."

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