How Will the Public Sector Manage Weight Loss Drugs After Wild Year for GLP-1s?

The approval of Eli Lilly and Co.’s Zepbound (tirzepatide) in November capped off a banner year for glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists and their use in weight loss management. And the fuss over these much-hyped obesity drugs — originally approved to treat diabetes — is likely just beginning. While employer groups and commercial payers are agonizing over the potential cost of coverage, industry leaders and legislators are pushing for Medicare to cover GLP-1s as weight loss therapies. Medicaid programs, meanwhile, are also weighing their options.

GLP-1s are now “the No. 1 driver of non-specialty pharmacy trend,” Mercer’s lead pharmacy actuary Jon Lewis told AIS’s Health Plan Weekly in November. Zepbound joins fellow GLP-1s from Novo Nordisk A/S, Wegovy (semaglutide) and Saxenda (liraglutide), in the obesity market basket. (As diabetes therapies, Zepbound is marketed as Mounjaro, while Wegovy is known as Ozempic.) Despite crackdowns on off-label use of the drugs’ diabetes iterations and a seemingly endless wave of shortages, many in the industry are clamoring for increased consumer access to the drugs. The American Medical Association on Nov. 13 passed a resolution asking “health insurers to provide coverage of available FDA-approved weight-loss medications, including GLP-1 medications, to demonstrate a commitment to the health and well-being of our patients.”

© 2024 MMIT
Carina Belles

Carina Belles

Carina has been covering public-sector health care since 2018. As a data reporter for Radar on Medicare Advantage, she creates infographics and data stories on issues impacting Medicare, Medicaid and Part D. She also develops AIS Health Daily, a free daily newsletter that showcases AIS’s strong reporting across our four publications and parent company Norstella’s suite of market access and data solutions. Prior to joining the editorial team, she managed Medicare and Medicaid data for the Directory of Health Plans, AIS’s industry-standard health coverage database. She graduated from Ohio University with a B.S. in Journalism.

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