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Novo Nordisk says 80% of insured U.S. patients taking Wegovy pay less than $25 per month

Wegovy, an injectable prescription weight loss drug that has helped obese people.

Michael Siluk | UCG | Getty Images

Novo Nordisk said Thursday that 80% of U.S. patients with insurance coverage who take its popular weight-loss treatment, Wegovy, pay less than $25 a month for the drug.

These remarks suggest that many insured Americans do not have to bear the full cost of a monthly plan from Wegovy, which has a list price of about $1,350. It also comes as many U.S. health insurers are balking at the extreme cost of Wegovy and other obesity drugs while dropping them from their plans, even as demand for these treatments soars nationally and exceeds supply.

But Doug Langa, Novo Nordisk’s vice president for North America, said Thursday during a third-quarter earnings conference call that most major health plans and pharmacy benefit managers cover Wegovy.

Langa acknowledged that some employers are opting out of coverage, but noted that the business as a whole is seeing more insurers opting to cover the weekly injection.

He estimated that about 50 million Americans suffering from obesity could be eligible for Wegovy coverage under their health plans.

“From a directional standpoint, we are moving in the right direction and we will continue to focus on ensuring employer coverage as well as greater access for all Americans,” Langa said during the ‘call.

However, the direct cost of $25 will likely increase over time. Most patients need to take Wegovy for several months to see – and maintain – significant weight loss.

Wegovy, for example, results in 15% weight loss after 68 weeks, according to the drug’s clinical trials.

The longer duration of treatment is also one reason some health insurers are hesitant to cover Wegovy and similar weight-loss drugs, which typically work by mimicking a hormone produced in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite.

At about $1,000 a month on average for drugs that are typically taken for months or even a year, these medications are putting a strain on insurers’ budgets.

But Novo Nordisk hopes new data showing Wegovy’s heart health benefits will put more pressure on insurers to cover similar weight loss medications and treatments.

A recent late-stage trial found that Wegovy reduced the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes by 20%. The results suggest that Wegovy and similar drugs for obesity and diabetes, like those developed by Eli Lilly and others, could have long-term health benefits beyond shedding excess pounds.

Karsten Munk Knudsen, Novo Nordisk’s chief financial officer, told CNBC on Thursday that Wegovy could receive expanded approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease within six months.

More than 2 in 5 adults suffer from obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health.

About 1 in 11 adults suffer from severe obesity.

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