There's 'still a lot to learn' about new weight loss drugs, UnitedHealth Group CEO says

On-label use of new drugs to treat Type 2 diabetes are well managed by current authorization requirements, UnitedHealthcare's CEO Brian Thompson said. 

GLP-1 drugs, including Ozempic, Trulicity, Victoza and Mounjaro are used to treat Type 2 diabetes. Wegovy and Saxenda are approved for weight loss. 

UnitedHealthcare is seeing increased usage of GLP-1 drugs, mostly to treat diabetes, Mr. Thompson told investors on an April 14 call.

"The overwhelming majority of that is in diabetic care, and it is as we had expected, low single digits in terms of weight loss use. I would say that our on-label usage has been well managed with our authorization requirements," Mr. Thompson said. 

Payers typically do not cover newer drugs meant for treating obesity but do often cover drugs meant to treat diabetes, while Medicare never covers new weight loss drugs. GLP-1 drugs marketed for weight loss are typically not covered, though the same drug marketed for diabetes treatment is typically covered.

New weight loss drugs could cost Medicare billions of dollars each year if the program is required to cover them, public health experts wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in March. 

UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty told investors it is "good news" that there are innovations being made in weight management. 

"We need to get focused on the facts and reality of this marketplace. We need to really be clear about which patients really do benefit from these medicines and make sure we properly understand how they're going to use those medicines," Mr. Witty said. "So there's a lot still to learn, I think, as these things progress through their final phases."

With analysts expecting sales of manufacturer Novo Nordisk's obesity drugs to reach $70 billion by 2026, payers will have to make decisions about who they will cover the expensive drugs for, the Wall Street Journal reported April 17.

"They’re not just going to start giving a green light to every doctor that writes a prescription for drugs that cost $6,000 a month," Lisa Gill, an analyst with JPMorgan told the WSJ. 

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