MINNEAPOLIS — The ads for diabetes drugs are impossible to escape, as their side effect of major weight loss continues to make them surge in popularity.
Those drugs include Ozempic, Wegovy, Rybelsus, Mounjaro and Zepbound. Only Wegovy and Mounjaro have been approved by the FDA for weight loss. This distinction could be key for insurance companies that currently do not cover these drugs, forcing patients like Lori Rock to look to coupons to cover the cost.
Over the past year and a half, Rock has lost more than 100 pounds with the help of Mounjaro. However, her insurance won't cover the drug. At first, with a manufacturer's coupon, the drug cost her $25 a month. The next manufacturer's coupon has her now paying $500 a month. If and when that coupon expires at the end of the year, she may have to cover the full cost. According to their website, that could mean footing a $1,023 bill per month.
"It's very stressful because, number one, I'm not at my goal yet. And, number two, I might have to be on this for the rest of my life," said Rock.
That is true. Weight loss experts like Dr. Iesha Galloway-Gilliam, medical director of Hennepin Healthcare's Comprehensive Weight Management Center, say without the medications the weight will come back.
"The medications are only as effective as they are taken. Meaning once the medications are discontinued, the effects from the medications are discontinued" Galloway-Gilliam said.
But the insurance equation could change. A major study released this month shows that semaglutide drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 20%.
Dr. Michael Miedema, a preventative cardiologist at Allina, said that's a big deal because the cost is obviously an issue.
"I understand the hesitation of a payer to approve a medication when it's costly, when we don't have great evidence that it works. But now the evidence continues to build that we use these medications, you know, they're not about cosmetic weight loss. It's about making people healthier. And this trial very clearly supports that when people took it, they had less heart attacks and strokes." said Miedema.
Earlier this year, WCCO spoke with Laura Collins. Her insurance covered her Wegovy from the start. She is maintaining her 100-pound weight loss, and she isn't going broke doing it.
"The best thing about it is I'm not constantly obsessed about food 24/7. So I actually get to live my life" said Collins.
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