Are you or a loved one someone who has struggled with their weight as long as you can remember? Have you or they tried every diet and medication out there to help lose the weight? Health experts say that the latest weight loss pill Wegovy (semaglutide) is a ‘game changer.’
“The data is pretty impressive,” says Jennifer L. Kirby, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Virginia Health System. “We have a limited amount of tools in our toolbox when it comes to the treatment of overweight and obesity. The addition of semaglutide is excellent news.”
The FDA has approved another long awaited drug this week, Wegovy (or semaglutide) though this is not the first time this medication was approved. The FDA first granted the approval to Semaglutide 1 mg injection (Ozempic) as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in 2017.
The new weight loss medication has been deemed as the first successful ‘chronic weight management’ in clinically obese adults, who are defined as those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. But people considered merely overweight (BMI of at least 27) are also eligible, provided they have at least one weight-related ailment, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.
According to the FDA, Wegovy works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food intake. For best results, the medication dose must be increased gradually over 16 to 20 weeks to 2.4 mg once weekly to reduce gastrointestinal side effects.
A ‘game changer,’ not ‘magic pill’
W. Timothy Garvey, M.D., Butterworth, Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and director of the UAB Diabetes Research Center, describes the approval of semaglutide for weight loss as a “game changer,” but equally as passionate about the pill not being a quick nor easy fix.
“It helps patients adhere to a reduced-calorie diet; it’s not a magic pill. You still have to pay attention to lifestyle choices and keep up physical activity,” says Garvey. What it does is make it far easier to stick with the diet and exercise changes necessary for weight loss, which can otherwise be extremely difficult for overweight and obese people.
Does Medicare cover it?
As usual, the new weight loss ‘game changer’ comes with a hefty price. Currently, patients who want to take a weight loss drug like Wegovy are likely looking at $1,200 to $1,300 a month out of pocket for as long as they require it (probably the rest of their lives).
Medicare doesn’t currently cover obesity medication, and most private health insurance plans don’t either, though each cover bariatric surgery. Obesity experts are hoping to change that by supporting the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act.
“It would enforce Medicare coverage for overweight and obesity medication, which is likely to drive better coverage across the commercial market. We know that overweight and obesity can worsen over 200 conditions, including joint disease, heart disease and many types of cancer,” says Kirby. “I see patients who have struggled with their weight for a long time and have been told repeatedly, ‘All you need to do is eat less and exercise.’ But those interventions [alone] only result in modest results for most patients. The rest really need extra help.”
Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). FDA Approves New Drug Treatment for Chronic Weight Management, First Since 2014. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-new-drug-treatment-chronic-weight-management-first-2014.
Text – S.596 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2021. (2021, March 4). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/596/text