Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company behind the anti-obesity drug Zepbound, has launched LillyDirect, a direct-to-patient portal. This innovative platform allows certain patients to obtain Zepbound for as low as $25 a month, marking a significant shift in how these medications are made available to patients. This development is particularly important for the 42 million Americans with obesity, for whom weight loss medications like Wegovy, Saxenda, and Zepbound can be highly beneficial.
The availability of these medications has been challenging due to drug shortages and high costs, with prices reaching up to $1,300 monthly without insurance coverage. However, 2024 may see improvements in insurance coverage for these drugs on private health plans, and federal legislators are working to overturn a 2003 law that prevents Medicare from covering these medications for obesity.
Recent research has shown that semaglutide (Wegovy) can reduce the risk of recurrent strokes, heart attacks, and deaths from cardiovascular events in individuals with obesity and preexisting cardiovascular disease. This finding is expected to influence health insurers’ decisions.
The GLP-1 agonist medications, which are injected weekly or more often, work by activating hormone receptors that increase the feeling of fullness, leading to significant weight loss. LillyDirect will provide these obesity medicines through the telehealth platform FORM, allowing patients to consult with independent telehealth providers.
Obesity experts have welcomed this new service, emphasizing its potential to improve the availability and affordability of these medications. However, there are concerns about the transparency between telehealth providers and pharmaceutical companies to avoid conflicts of interest.
The American College of Physicians has expressed concern about this direct-to-consumer approach, emphasizing the importance of an established patient-doctor relationship or consultation with a doctor who has such a relationship.
In addition to obesity treatment, GLP-1 medications have been found to reduce cardiovascular risks. Insurance coverage for these medications is expected to increase in 2024, with a survey indicating that coverage could nearly double.