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Patients want weight-loss drugs, but insurance won't always pay for them

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Three in four older adults think Medicare should cover prescription medication for weight management.

Patients want more coverage for weight-loss drugs: ©Kurhan - stock.adobe.com

Patients want more coverage for weight-loss drugs: ©Kurhan - stock.adobe.com

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted a survey in July and August 2023, illustrating the challenges associated with health insurance coverage for medications aimed at managing obesity in adults aged 50–80.

The survey indicates a notable gap in coverage for these medications, sparking concerns about equitable access to effective obesity treatment. Among the surveyed adults, 36% had obesity, and 37% were overweight. While 92% reported using various strategies for weight management, including physical activity, diet changes, and supplements, the study showed that awareness of FDA-approved prescription medications for weight management is limited. Only 64% of respondents were aware of such medications, with the highest awareness for Ozempic (61%) and lower awareness for Wegovy (18%) and Phentermine (13%).

Despite limited awareness, there is significant interest among older adults in prescription medications for weight management, with 83% of those who had previously used such medications expressing a desire to continue. However, challenges such as the high cost of medications, lack of coverage by many insurers, and potential side effects pose obstacles to widespread adoption. Moreover, the survey underscores the need for increased awareness and education among health care providers and professionals about the rapidly changing landscape of prescription medications for weight management. Professional education efforts should emphasize how medications can best be used as part of a comprehensive treatment program for weight management, according to researchers.

The findings also show that more than four in five older adults (83%) believe health insurance should cover FDA-approved prescription medications for weight management. Specifically concerning Medicare, 76% of older adults support requiring Medicare to cover such medications. However, only 30% of all older adults expressed willingness to pay more for their Medicare premiums to have these medications covered.

In addition to medications, older adults expressed opinions on other weight management strategies that should be covered by health insurance, including sessions with a registered dietitian or nutritionist (85%), weight loss surgery (73%), gym or fitness facility memberships (65%), apps or online programs for tracking diet and exercise (58%), and personal trainer sessions (53%).

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