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Nearly half of Americans interested in weight-loss drugs like Wegovy, survey finds

Nearly half of Americans are interested in taking weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic or Wegovy, but desire sharply drops if people must pay out of pocket for the pricey medications.

KFF health tracking poll published Friday found 45% of people are interested in taking a safe and effective weight loss medication. An even larger share of people want to take weight-loss drugs if a doctor has told them they’re overweight. But just 16% of adults said they would choose these drugs if insurance refuses to cover the medications, some of which can cost over $1,300 per month.

Studies have showed the class of drugs, called GLP-1 agonists, work to suppress appetite and promote weight loss. Health insurers and employers preparing for open enrollment are debating whether to cover the wildly popular weight-loss medications that have been embraced by celebrities and consumers alike. The University of Texas system announced it would cease coverage of Wegovy and Saxendra as of Sept. 1 for employees and others on the university’s health insurance plan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Drug pricing analysts expect more pitched battles between consumers who expect coverage and employers and insurers reluctant to absorb the cost of drugs that might force them to raise monthly premiums.

“These are expensive drugs,” said Ralph Pisano, president of Nuwae Health, a Connecticut-based company. “If these were $20 generics a month, I don’t think anyone would care. These are $1,300 plus dollar drugs a month.”

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Consumers: Insurance companies should cover weight-loss shots

The KFF poll found 80% of consumers expect health insurers to cover the cost of weight-loss drugs for adults diagnosed as overweight or abuse. A slight majority, 53%, also believe these drugs should be covered for anyone who wants to lose weight.

Half of those surveyed want insurers to cover the cost even if the drugs raised the cost of health insurance for everyone, the survey said.

And interest in the drugs isn’t limited to those who are seeking to shed a lot of weight. Slightly more than half of respondents who want to trim 10 or fewer pounds said they’d take a weight-loss drug if safe and effective. And nearly 1 in 4 people not trying to lose weight said they’d be interested in taking such drugs, the survey found.

The widespread interest in these drugs has led to shortages. Wegovy, the first drug approved for weight loss, has had shortages for most of the two years since it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pisano said the weight-loss drugs have achieved “cultural icon status,” which is driving demand and pressuring insurers to cover the medication.

Still, he said, employers and insurers will evaluate how to pay for the cost of these drugs while also considering health benefits. Patients with type 2 diabetes, for example, can lose significant weight and reduce the likelihood of complications such as heart attack or stroke.

“It’s a real issue,” Pisano said. “I don’t know if (insurers) see the long term value yet. They will if we can show some outcomes like cardiovascular events are down and diabetic hospitalizations are down.”

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Concerns emerge about weight-loss shots, weight gain after discontinuing medication

While the survey said 44% of people said they’d take weight loss medication if it was a pill, only 23% are interested if they must give themselves a weekly injection. Only 14% are interested when they learn they may gain weight back if they discontinue the medication. And just 16% would be interested in drugs the FDAapproved for health conditions other than weight loss.

Medications that promise quick weight loss “kind of fit into the American culture,” said Ashley Kirzinger, KFF’s director of survey methodology. “But when people actually find out more about the possible drawbacks and obstacles that could prevent them from accessing it, they are less interested.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nearly half of Americans interested in weight-loss drugs like Wegovy, survey finds

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