November 28, 2023

As Americans increasingly turn to diabetes-related medications that can help non-diabetics lose weight, a growing number of employers are telling workers to eat a salad instead.

Prescription drugs such as Ozempic can cost up to $1,350 a month, and are running up tabs for health insurers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

In response, some employers are eliminating coverage for the injections from their employee health plans.

The Wall Street Journal cites the example of the University of Texas System, which saw its costs for weight-loss meds more than triple over the last year and a half to about $5 million.

The system said it would end coverage of the shots for its employees beginning Sept. 1.

Paying for the drugs “is unsustainable due to the current rate of prescription drug expenditures,” the university said in a newsletter.

This is the latest example of Big Pharma introducing (or repurposing) a blockbuster drug while looking to make fat stacks with sky-high prices.

Similarly, it’s another example of insurance plans responding to those costs by telling patients to fend for themselves.

Such are the economics of a for-profit healthcare system.

Would things be different under a Medicare-for-all approach? The answer is yes.

That’s because instead of thousands of health plans trying to cut their own deals with drugmakers and other healthcare providers, you’d have a single program representing hundreds of millions of Americans using its market power to cut the best possible deal for patients.

That’s how our economic peers with single-payer insurance systems do it. They level the playing field by representing the entire population in setting reasonable healthcare prices.

That’s not to say all meds and all treatments should necessarily be covered. Some treatments might be experimental. Others might not improve significantly on existing options to warrant mega-prices.

At least, however, there’d be a greater sense of fairness, rather than the perception among many people with employer-sponsored plans that they’re paying high premiums for dwindling coverage.

Be that as it may, the newfangled weight-loss drugs are little more than a shortcut for people who lack the patience or stamina for long-term dieting or exercise.

Their popularity has been fueled by influencers and celebrities touting this off-brand use of prescription meds developed for an entirely different purpose (diabetes).

Those are folk who, by and large, can afford these expensive drugs.

Most other people, needless to say, cannot. And neither can their employers.


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