A University of Michigan poll found that older adults are interested in taking weight loss medications like Ozempic or Wegovy and want Medicare to pay for it.
Within the last year, injectable diabetes/weight management drugs have become a hot topic of discussion. GLP-1 medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound have redefined weight loss, with many people losing a significant amount of excess weight while taking the drugs.
However, the price tags on these medications are high, with a monthly cost of $730 to $1,400 without insurance coverage. And not all insurance providers cover Ozempic and other injectable drugs specifically for weight loss. For example, only certain Medicare plans may cover Ozempic, but typically, the prescription must be medically necessary and for diabetes treatment only.
Now, a new National Poll on Healthy Aging examining older adult's views on weight loss medications found that many older adults want Medicare to cover these drugs to help manage overweight and obesity.
The survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, polled a national sample of adults aged 50 to 80 about their weight and weight management strategies.
Poll data showed that 27% of respondents reported being overweight, and 16% of those individuals have taken prescription weight management medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Saxenda.
Adults who reported using these drugs included those who rated their overall health as fair or poor, were aged 50 to 64, or had diabetes or high blood sugar. Moreover, 63% say they are interested in taking prescription weight loss drugs in the future.
Regarding paying for these medications, 83% think health insurance should cover weight management drugs, and 76% say Medicare should cover them. Still, only 30% would want to pay a higher premium if insurers offered coverage.
Other weight management strategies that respondents felt insurance should cover included appointments with a registered dietician or nutritionist, weight loss surgery, gym or fitness center memberships, apps or online programs to manage weight, and sessions with personal trainers.
The cost of not covering obesity drugs
Because insurers might not cover weight loss medications, people who take them can endure a high financial burden. Yet, research suggests that obesity can lead to health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and dementia, all of which contribute to high healthcare costs.
With just over 30% of adults in the United States overweight and more than 42% obese, making these medications more accessible through insurance coverage and other coverage strategies could potentially reduce healthcare costs in the long run.
Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) concurred with this ideology.
On November 14, the AMA released a statement urging insurance companies to cover obesity drugs, as obesity is "a disease that poses a major health concern in the United States. When obesity is left untreated, it can put patients at risk for serious health consequences."
- University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. Views on Medications for Weight Management.
- NIH. Overweight & Obesity Statistics.
- AMA. AMA urges insurance coverage parity for emerging obesity treatment options.