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Destroying Diabetes and Weight – But the Insurers May Not Cover You

Losing weight and reducing diabetes risks is always a good new year resolution, however two-thirds of overweight adults in the US face difficulty receiving insurance coverage for new drugs like the anti-obesity drug Saxendra.

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In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new anti-obesity drug, Saxenda, the fourth prescription drug the agency has given the green light to fight obesity since 2012.

Tampa Bay Times reports that the health benefits of using anti-obesity drugs to lose weight—improvements in blood sugar and risk factors for heart disease, among other things—may not be immediately apparent.

“For things that are preventive in the long term, it makes plan sponsors think about their strategy,” says Dr. Steve Miller, the chief medical officer at Express Scripts, which manages the prescription drug benefits for thousands of companies. Companies with high turnover, for example, are less likely to cover the drugs, he says.

“Most health plans will cover things that have an immediate impact in that plan year,” Miller says.

Miller estimates that about a third of companies don’t cover anti-obesity drugs at all, a third cover all FDA-approved weight-loss drugs, and a third cover approved drugs, but with restrictions to limit their use. The Medicare prescription drug program specifically excludes coverage of anti-obesity drugs.

Part of the reluctance by Medicare and private insurers to cover weight-loss drugs stems from serious safety problems with diet drugs in the past, including the withdrawal in 1997 of fenfluramine, part of the fen-phen diet drug combination that was found to damage heart valves.

Back then, weight-loss drugs were often dismissed as cosmetic treatments. But as the link between obesity and increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other serious medical problems has become clearer, prescription drugs are seen as having a role to play in addressing the obesity epidemic. Obesity accounts for 21 percent of annual medical costs in the United States, or $190 billion, according to a 2012 study published in theJournal of Health Economics.

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