One doctor said, “Starting Wegovy means staying on Wegovy for the long term.”
There are several barriers that can prevent patients from accessing the highly sought-after Wegovy and Ozempic drugs, including high cost, lack of insurance coverage, and affordability.
Last year, the country experienced a temporary shortage of both drugs after celebrities and some well-known figures touted their effects as a weight loss aid, including billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
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Vegowy vs. Ozempic
Vegovi and Ozempic are the same drug – semaglutide. They just have different dosages and intended uses approved by the FDA.
Ozempic was approved by federal health authorities in 2017 and sold for medical use in the treatment of type 2 diabetes “with weight loss as a side effect of the drug and mechanism of action.”
Wegs was approved four years later specifically for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with at least one weight-related disease, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol, according to the FDA by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). .
Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk said none of the drugs are “intended for use as a lifestyle drug.”
“Hiccups” due to availability
Novo Nordisk told FOX Business that all dosages of Wegovy are now available at retail pharmacies across the country, but warned that “pharmacies may experience the usual delays given the time it takes to order the product at their local distribution center and geographic differences.”
The pharmacist also said most doses of Ozempic are available for type 2 diabetic patients in the US, but there are still “periodic supply shortages” for certain doses.
This failure is “expected until mid-March – due to a combination of incredible demand coupled with general global supply constraints,” the company said in a statement.
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“While the product continues to be manufactured and shipped, patients in some regions of the country will experience delays with these doses,” Novo Nordisk said in a statement, adding that patients “concerned about continuity of care should contact their healthcare provider.”
North Carolina gastroenterologist and obesity specialist Dr. Christopher McGowan said some of his patients are still experiencing “hiccups in their pharmacies,” which he says is “most likely due to delivery and distribution issues.”
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“As a result, patients are forced to hunt for drugs, often across multiple pharmacies, and may need to adjust their dose of medication or, worse, stop taking the medication entirely,” McGowan said.
New York-based endocrinologist Dr. Jaime Mullally told FOX Business that she is still receiving reports from some patients that they are having a hard time getting these drugs. However, “it’s not as much as a few months ago” when she received messages every day, she said.
Medicines are needed for an indefinite period.
McGowan also emphasized that it is a long-acting drug.
“As I always tell my patients, the launch of Wegovy means the continuation of Wegovy,” he said.
Studies have shown that patients who stop taking semaglutide will regain two-thirds of the weight they lost within the next year, according to McGowan.
“Because obesity chronic, progressive and relapsing diseasereturn of weight is inevitable as soon as you stop the medicine,” he said.
Ultimately, this will create a barrier “for patients who may be against long-term drug use, and for healthcare professionals, who unfortunately often do not view obesity as a chronic disease,” he continued.
McGowan argued that obesity should be treated in the same way as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. That means one day “you start taking medication and you keep taking it,” McGowan said.
When Mullally prescribes these drugs to her patients, she emphasizes that this is because they are obese and have a serious medical condition that improves with weight loss, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
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“We are treating a medical condition. We’re not for not treating people who need to lose 5 to 10 pounds to look good in a bathing suit,” Mullally said.
Despite the drug being used to treat medical conditions, McGowan and Mullally said patients are still having insurance issues.
In fact, McGowan argued that the lack of insurance coverage is “the biggest hurdle”.
“Only a small fraction of commercial insurance programs cover Wegovy, and public insurance explicitly excludes coverage for anti-obesity drugs,” he continued.
McGowan stressed that health insurance continues to view obesity, which he says affects 42% of Americans, “as a personal choice or lack of willpower, although this is completely wrong.”
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“This needs to change,” he said. “Insurers will not deny coverage for cancer, heart disease, or diabetes (diseases often directly related to obesity), and obesity should be no exception.”
Mullally said that while insurance coverage is “pretty good” for patients with type 2 diabetes, “acceptance of insurance coverage for anti-obesity drugs … still remains a major hurdle.” At least 50% of her patients don’t pay for obesity drugs, including Wegovy, she says.
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Society tends to think of obesity as willpower and that people should just eat less and exercise more.
“As experts in the fight against obesity, we have come to understand that this is not so simple. We have an obesity epidemic and we need some kind of paradigm shift in terms of thinking about obesity as a medical disease,” she continued.
McGown noted that Wegovy costs more than $1,300 a month without insurance, and since it has to be taken indefinitely, this can add up.
“This is a major investment for patients that very few people can afford without full coverage,” he said.
Meanwhile, the average monthly out-of-pocket spending on Ozempic is roughly $950 to $1,000. That’s slightly lower than Wegovy’s, but still prohibitively expensive due to the lack of insurance coverage, he said.
Because Ozempic is only FDA-approved for diabetes, patients who wish to receive this medication through insurance must have a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Anyone who wants to use Ozempic off-label for weight management will be forced to pay out of pocket, McGowan said.
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