Employee Benefits Strategy: Weaving in Weight Loss Drugs
Demand for new weight loss medications continues to rise and employers remain concerned about budget impacts if they decide to offer these costly medications as part of their benefit package. These medications, known as GLP-1 agonists have skyrocketed in popularity and are thought to be “miracle drugs” by many. The reality is that weight loss requires a multi-modal approach and not all people who use them will achieve significant weight loss. Studies have shown that once discontinued, patients gain an average two-thirds of the weight back1. The reality is there is no miracle cure, but these medications have helped to destigmatize obesity and make clear the benefits of taking a multi-faceted approach to sustain weight loss.
Employer Case Study
As is the case with many organizations, weight loss drug strategy was recently of particular interest to one of our clients, edHEALTH. The client was interested in the positive impacts yielded but was daunted by the complex dynamic of long-term cost versus benefit.
Spring assisted edHEALTH in assessing a best practice avenue for weight loss drugs, keeping in mind that spending on obesity-related conditions result in approximately a 12% increase in total healthcare costs2. Wegovy (semaglutide) has an average price of approximately $1,349 a month, or more than $15,000 annually. That is more than double what the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER)3, a private entity that provides an independent source of evidence review and creates cost-analysis reports, recommends, instead stating that Wegovy should be priced somewhere around $7,500–$9,800 per year to fall into the cost-effective threshold.
We worked with edHEALTH and its PBM partners to fully understand their weight loss medication utilization management and monitoring parameters. As a member consortium, edHEALTH is committed to providing their member institutions with the information needed to assist them in determining the best cost-management strategies. Therefore, a key part of our evaluation was to prioritize the education of staff and faculty on the protocols and side effects of these medications to potentially narrow the interest to those highly motivated groups. There is no one size fits all solution, but there are specific points of consideration and educational resources that can help organizations of any kind address this topic with stakeholders.
Additional recommendations included:
- Ensuring plan participants understand that treatment should extend beyond the medication
- A comprehensive approach is critical and ideally includes behavior-management coaching, nutrition support, an exercise plan, and accountability check-ins.
- Non-medication initiatives might include fitness reimbursements, nutrition programs like WW (formerly Weight Watchers), and/or employee walking challenges. Incentives should be woven into these programs.
- Reauthorization requirements with the PBM should be in place (approximately every 6 months) to confirm patients are receiving the expected positive response to therapy related to goals.
For example, edHEALTH hosts an annual walking challenge between member schools, with prizes and check-ins along the way. The healthy competition creates a simple yet effective way to get employees moving more than they might otherwise, and a tactic like this pairs nicely with an overarching weight loss strategy.
Considerations for Employers
Ultimately the choice to cover these medications is an organizational decision, but it’s critical to have all the information necessary to make this decision, starting with a robust view of your population demographics. With high rates of obesity for most health plan sponsors, a prudent and thoughtful approach to expanding weight-loss coverage will be required. Attempts like this to tackle the obesity epidemic could produce long-term savings with lower overall healthcare costs, prevention of progression of existing diseases, and most importantly a better quality of life and employee experience.
No matter your decision on offerings, the more you can offer through communications and education will help your plan participants make informed decisions and understand their role in achieving and keeping weight off. To realize tangible results, all parties must be committed.
Our clinical pharmacist and benefits consulting team is here to help you assess weight loss as a component of your benefits strategy, including not only weight loss drugs but also wellbeing initiatives and data analytics for monitoring success. Get in touch for assistance in navigating this nuanced and rapidly evolving area.