Playing with Money

Why Is Semaglutide More Expensive for Obesity?

Somehow this doesn’t seem right. The list price for for a month’s supply of semaglutide when it’s for diabetes is $892. No matter whether you need a dose of 1 mg, or the new high dose of 2 mg, the price is the same. It goes under the brand name of Ozempic and comes from Novo Nordisk. That same company puts a higher price on semaglutide (2.4 mg dose) when it’s for obesity – $1,349 per month. That’s a 51 percent premium to use this same drug for obesity under the name Wegovy. So why is semaglutide more expensive if it’s for obesity?

We simply cannot explain it. It doesn’t seem right.

It’s especially odd when you consider the price reported for Wegovy in the UK – less than $100 per month.

Adding Another Financial Burden for Obesity

Of course, this is not the only hit that people people living with obesity take. Health insurance plans have endless ways of piling on financial burdens. They add higher co-pays for obesity care. Or simply refuse to pay. This is why much of the cost for obesity care comes out of pocket for the folks who are living with this disease.

Or more often, they simply forgo care and wait for costly complications to pile up. For the complications, health insurers are more likely to pay. This kind of systematic financial discrimination is both irresponsible and unconscionable. It is one of the reasons that disparities in obesity care are so great for disadvantaged communities.

Thus, we are genuinely surprised to see Novo Nordisk joining in with discriminatory pricing for obesity care.

A Triple Bottom Line

The company states its business philosophy in terms of a Triple Bottom Line. The company professes that social impact is one of three key factors that guide every decision it makes. By and large, we have seen this be true for their work in the field of obesity. So this pricing policy that puts an extra burden on people living with obesity is surprising.

A Question of Equity

We’ve been hearing a lot about this from healthcare professionals who care for people with obesity. They tell us that Wegovy is a great advance for obesity care, but it’s out of reach for most patients because of the cost and the high rate of denials for insurance coverage.

Obesity medicine physician Fatima Cody Stanford has a particular research interest in health disparities. She tells us that she cannot make sense of this differential pricing:

“I eat, live, and breathe equity. However, when we see that pricing for a drug differs based upon a disease state, we have a problem. People living with obesity already face significant hardships due to the high prevalence of weight bias and stigma. These large differences in price to treat obesity add to the inequities. I would not want to be treated differently or charged more because of my race. Why should we charge people more because of their disease state for the exact same drug?”

We would love to know. Why is this medicine more expensive for obesity than it is for diabetes? Innovation is worthless when it’s out of reach.

Playing with Money, painting by Bartolomeo Pinelli / WikiArt

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May 12, 2022

5 Responses to “Why Is Semaglutide More Expensive for Obesity?”

  1. May 12, 2022 at 8:30 am, Nanette Wilson said:

    Certainly does the trick to eat up copays and assists with an increased need for anxiety meds… It’s frustrating to see a company actively taking advantage of price gouging where it can. I would think a company that advocates for obesity treatment wouldn’t take advantage of its consumers living with obesity. But our government has allowed it. We have so much need to fight for change in our Healthcare system right now.

  2. May 12, 2022 at 9:13 am, John DiTraglia said:

    So i called the Wegovy 800 number and the nice lady said that the price is determined by the pharmacy and the insurance company and the indication and not the drug company. So that’s meaningless shifting the blame. She didn’t know how to buy it from the UK.

  3. May 12, 2022 at 9:22 am, Angie Golden said:

    Thank you for this post even though it is devastating! I knew how much cheaper it was for people in Canada to get Wegovy, but $100 in the UK? It would be cheaper to fly there, buy it and come home than pay for it here!!! And I had no idea the pricing difference between diseases. This is just wrong and the company should have an answer. I have always felt Novo had a strong commitment for people living with obesity, this just saddens (and angers) me for my patients.

    • May 12, 2022 at 3:06 pm, Ted said:

      Drug pricing is messed up in the U.S. and that’s not Novo Nordisk’s fault. But the differential pricing for obesity vs diabetes is an unfortunate mistake they’ve made.

  4. May 12, 2022 at 10:36 am, Gina said:

    I pay $250 / month because insurance demands repeat Rx be sent to mail order or I pay full price. My husband pays $25 at a local pharmacy which automatically uses a Wegovy coupon. We used to get reimbursed by Novo for the mail order, but my reimbursement has been continually denied since January. Something doesn’t make sense.