Despite the considerable excitement surrounding new and potent obesity medications, the high costs associated with these drugs have made them inaccessible to many Americans who could greatly benefit from them. Sens. Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-Louisiana, and Tom Carper, D-Delaware, along with Reps. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, and Raul Ruiz, D-California, have taken a step to address this issue by proposing the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. This proposed legislation aims to intensify the government’s efforts in combating the obesity epidemic.
The lawmakers emphasize that obesity is closely linked to various common health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act seeks to tackle these associated health problems head-on by expanding Medicare coverage to include new healthcare specialists and chronic weight management medications for Medicare recipients. By doing so, the bill aims to prevent these comorbidities directly and improve the overall health of the population.
One notable next-generation obesity medication on the market is Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy, which has garnered significant attention due to its remarkable weight loss results. However, the drug comes with a hefty price tag, costing more than $16,000 per year for those without insurance. The exorbitant cost has made it unaffordable for many individuals who may benefit from its effects.
The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act has gained support from at least 10 other lawmakers representing both political parties. Moreover, numerous organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, YMCA of the USA, and Weight Watchers, have shown their endorsement for the proposed legislation. Additionally, pharmaceutical giants Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Boehringer Ingelheim have also backed the bill, as per the lawmakers’ release.
Apart from Wegovy, Novo Nordisk also markets its first-generation obesity drug, Saxenda, which has experienced a shortage due to a surge in demand. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly anticipates obtaining approval for its Wegovy competitor, tirzepatide, and Boehringer is working on a potential third rival drug.
While the expanded Medicare coverage might help more patients afford new weight loss medicines, it would not directly address the supply issues faced by pharmaceutical companies. The high demand for Wegovy led Novo Nordisk to reduce the U.S. supply of starter doses to ensure existing patients could continue accessing their medications. Additionally, the company temporarily paused Wegovy marketing efforts in response to the situation.
Eli Lilly is also facing challenges in keeping up with the demand for Mounjaro, a drug approved for Type 2 diabetes and potentially obesity in the future. Both companies are making significant investments, amounting to billions of dollars, to bolster their manufacturing capacity. Novo Nordisk pledged $2.58 billion in 2021 to build three new manufacturing facilities and expand its site in Kalundborg, Denmark. Last month, the company committed an additional $2.3 billion to expand another site in Hillerød, Denmark. Similarly, Eli Lilly announced in April that it would invest $1.6 billion to expand its manufacturing footprint in Boone County, Indiana, making it the company’s largest-ever financial commitment for a single site.