Workplace obesity takes a financial toll on employers, from reduced productivity and increased absenteeism to serious health problems that can trigger higher insurance premiums. Although several new medications show great promise, they also can be prohibitively expensive.
The challenge for employers is to provide a benefits package that promotes weight management and wellbeing while holding the line on costs. Twenty-two percent of U.S. employers now cover prescription drugs for weight loss, 45% pay for bariatric surgery and one-third offer some form of weight management program, according to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
“The demand for weight-loss medication isn’t going away,” according to the recent State of Weight Care report from Found Health. ”The global anti-obesity drugs market is projected to grow from $4.51 billion in 2023 to $22.85 billion by 2030. Companies must be prepared to provide cost-effective solutions. Today, an overwhelming majority of employers believe weight management is vital to preventive physical health care.”
GLP-1s such as Ozempic and Wegovy are a class of medications that have been used to treat diabetes and now are being used to treat obesity and excess weight. Consumers’ experiences with GLP-1s are varied, with some eagerly awaiting a prescription for the touted “miracle weight-loss drug” and others unable or unwilling to begin weekly, and sometimes daily, injections costing upwards of $1,600 a month. Most, if not all, benefits leaders remain cautious about the best approach to these new therapies, which may be both clinically effective for many of their employees but also have potentially astronomical impacts on the company’s bottom line.
Found Health surveyed employers about the current state of weight-loss medication benefits. Among the findings:
- Given the availability and the perception that these are perks as much as health benefits, gym memberships and fitness class reimbursements continue to be the most popular types of weight management programs.
- The most significant impact within organizations is growing GLP-1 costs. Nearly two-thirds of benefits leaders reported increased GLP-1 spending in the past year.
- More than one-third of employers are concerned about clinical efficacy — adherence to clinical practices, potential side effects and results. Nearly one-third are concerned about cost management. Other employers report concerns around stigma and supply.
- Companies are divided by the approach they may adopt to adequately manage concerns around clinical efficacy, rising costs and medication supply amid GLP-1 shortages. Nearly one-third of companies surveyed plan to offer digital weight-loss solutions paired with medication, and one-quarter expect to offer coverage of anti-obesity medications without a corresponding digital component.
“The health issues associated with obesity and weight are significant, but so are the opportunities to address this disease with new medications and a better understanding of what obesity is,” the report concluded.
Related: Obesity is complicated: How best to cover, or not cover, the new weight loss drugs
“All stakeholders stand to benefit from effective investments in weight management. Employers and payers can improve the health of their population and reduce downstream total costs of care; providers can deliver clinically effective care to tackle one of the most prevalent chronic conditions with significant unmet needs; and consumers can significantly improve their everyday quality of life.”