5. Januar 2024
Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the anti-obesity drug Zepbound, announced the launch of LillyDirect this week, a direct-to-patient portal that will allow some patients to access the medication for only $25 a month. This move is seen as a major shift in how these popular medications reach patients. Millions of Americans struggle with obesity, and drugs like Wegovy, Saxenda, and the new Zepbound can be a godsend for people who have battled with excess weight for decades or their whole lives. However, for many who are eligible, acquiring these medications has been challenging. Drug shortages and costs of up to $1300 a month (without insurance coverage) have been obstacles.
But 2024 could be a much better year, thanks to Lilly’s new portal and other developments. Health insurance coverage with private insurance is still limited, but could improve. Federal lawmakers are advocating for a law from 2003 to be repealed, which currently prevents Medicare from paying for obesity-prescribed medications. New research also suggests that Semaglutide (Wegovy) could reduce the risk of recurring strokes, heart attacks, and cardiovascular-related deaths in people with obesity and existing heart conditions. This opens the door for greater attention from health insurers.
Known as GLP-1 agonists, these medications work by activating the receptors of hormones that are naturally released after eating, resulting in an increased sense of satiety leading some to experience weight loss of up to 22%. These medications are approved for use in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or a BMI of 27 and at least one other obesity-related condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Drugs are prescribed weekly or more frequently, along with advice on calorie reduction and increased physical activity.
Eli Lilly launched its direct-to-patient portal, offering its obesity medications (as well as diabetes and migraine medications) directly to the consumer. Patients can access obesity medications via the telehealth platform FORM. According to Lilly, patients can turn to independent telemedicine providers who can complement a patient’s current doctor or, in some cases, serve as an alternative to in-person care. Lilly officials did not respond to requests for comments.
Some obesity experts welcomed the new service. „Any program that improves the availability and affordability of these groundbreaking medications is welcome news for our suffering patients,“ said Louis Aronne, MD, Director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.
„This is a great move for Lilly,“ said Caroline Apovian, MD, a professor at the Harvard Medical School and Co-Director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. „It’s trying to solve the problem of cost accessibility responsibly.“
„Ultimately, there’s an overwhelming need and desire for these medications among consumers and not enough channels to provide them,“ said Zeev Neuwirth, MD, a former Atrium Health manager who writes about health trends. „Eli Lilly is responding to a market need that exists and is honestly continuing to grow.“
Benefits in Reducing Heart Attacks and Strokes
Previous studies have shown that GLP-1 drugs approved for the treatment of diabetes, such as Ozempic (Semaglutide), also reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems such as strokes and heart attacks. New research now shows that Semaglutide at the Wegovy dose (usually slightly higher than the Ozempic dose for diabetes) also has these benefits in patients who have not been diagnosed with diabetes but suffer from obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
A clinical study sponsored by Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Wegovy, gave half of over 17,000 obese people Semaglutide (Wegovy); the other half received a placebo. Compared to those taking the placebo, those taking Wegovy experienced a 20% reduction in strokes, heart attacks, and cardiovascular-related deaths over a period of 33 months. The study’s results are „a big deal,“ said Aronne. The results indicate that even people with obesity but without diabetes will benefit from the cardiovascular advantages of the treatment. He said that with continued research advancement, it will become difficult for insurers to refuse medication considering these results, which promise to lower long-term health costs.
Insurers continue to debate covering obesity treatments. Advocacy group American Medical Association expressed concern about websites that allow patients to order prescription medications directly from the drug manufacturer, emphasizing the importance of a patient-doctor relationship in receiving care.