A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis of the 10 top-selling prescription drugs under Medicare Part D offers an interesting snapshot of pharmacy spend. The drugs in question comprised less than 1% of all covered drugs in 2021, but made up approximately 22% of total gross spending.
Equally interesting is that 5 of the 10 drugs on the list are used to treat diabetes – including Ozempic and Trulicity, which have recently made headlines for their weight-loss effectiveness.
While Medicare doesn’t currently cover diabetes medications for off-brand uses, that may change: A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation that would require Medicare to cover weight-loss drugs. In any case, it will be interesting to monitor if these drugs make up an even larger share of Medicare spending in coming years.
Meanwhile, experts continue to, pardon the expression, “weigh in” on the topic. Dr. John Schoonbee, global chief medical officer of stop-loss carrier Swiss Re, cautions that while drugs to treat obesity can serve a useful purpose, in most cases they are no substitute for making meaningful lifestyle changes.
“It would be rash to discount the potential for these drugs to slow the obesity and diabetes epidemics and improve quality of life for those who take them. Nonetheless, the potential side-effects and the high cost of using the drugs in perpetuity mean those who prescribe and consume them need to think carefully about what part they should play in a sustainable weight-loss-treatment regimen,” Schoonbee writes in The Economist (article free for first-time readers with registration).