What to do when CVS / caremark lowers Viagra coverage

Starting January 1, 2016, millions of patients taking prescription drug insurance through CVS / caremark will no longer be covered by more than two dozen popular medications, including Viagra. The insurance provider said this week that it will drop 26 drugs from its formulary, or a list of covered drugs. Instead, he said patients could switch to cheaper alternatives.

“For those drugs being eliminated, equally effective products with lower overall costs remain available on the form,” CVS said in a statement provided to CBS News.

That may leave many wondering: What is an effective alternative to the small blue pill?

There is currently no generic version of Viagra in the US market. (No matter what type of email solicitations or online ads you may have seen the offer to sell it). The manufacturer, Pfizer, has an exclusive patent on the drug.

Another drug for erectile dysfunction, Levitra, from GlaxoSmithKline, is also being removed from the CVS / caremark form, according to a list obtained by USA Today.

However, a third option, Cialis, from Eli Lilly & Co., will continue to be covered. Patients have two choices of Cialis to choose from: a low dose pill for daily use or a higher dose that is taken only when needed.

Although there are small differences between medications, WebMD says Viagra, Levitra and Cialis work in a very similar way, by increasing blood flow to allow an erection. The medications come with a similar list of side effects, including headache, upset stomach or heartburn, flushing, nasal congestion, changes in vision, or hearing loss. Cialis can also cause back pain in some patients.

CVS pharmacies will continue to charge Viagra for customers who are covered under different insurance plans or who pay for the out-of-pocket drug.

CVS says its pharmacy benefit management service has nearly 65 million members who can fill their prescriptions by mail or through nearly 68,000 national retail pharmacies, including CVS stores and other pharmacies in their network.

Its competitor Express Scripts, the largest pharmaceutical benefits administrator in the United States, plans to continue to cover Viagra and Cialis in 2016, but it does not cover Levitra.

USA Today reports other drugs that CVS / caremark is falling off the form next year include Abilify (an antipsychotic); Amitiza (for irritable bowel disease); Cymbalta (for depression); Fosrenol (for kidney disease); And Diovan (for high blood pressure).

The company told CBS News that a full list of formulary changes for 2016 will be communicated to plan members, doctors and pharmacies this fall.