May 26, 2024

A growing number of Americans have taken GLP-1 drugs, like Ozempic and Wegovy. But while the drugs have become widely known for their weight-loss benefits, a majority of users still use the medications to treat other chronic conditions.

1 in 8 U.S. adults reported having ever used GLP-1s, and half are currently taking them, according to a new poll by health policy research firm KFF published Friday. GLP-1s are a class of drugs that are used primarily to help patients manage type 2 diabetes, but have also been found to help reduce appetite and spur weight loss in users.

Demand for these drugs has exploded, particularly for weight loss. Of current popular GLP-1s on the market, Zepbound, Wegovy, and Saxenda have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for weight loss, while Rybelsus, Ozempic, and Mounjaro are approved for type 2 diabetes treatment.

A majority (62%) of adults who have taken GLP-1 drugs reported taking them to treat a chronic condition, like diabetes or heart disease. Nearly 4 in 10 adults said they took them primarily to lose weight.

Of those who use the drugs, younger adults were more likely to say they use the drugs primarily to lose weight than those aged 65 and older.

But weight loss drug costs remain steep

One of the biggest barriers to use for the drugs is their price tag. Without insurance, Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic has a list of around $1,000 per pen, and is used once a week. Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro is similarly priced at $1,069 per fill, and is also administered once a week. In the United States, insurance can bring these costs down to around $100 a month, although many insurance providers like Medicare don’t cover the drugs for weight loss alone.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in March that Medicare will cover the cost of Wegovy — but only when prescribed as a way to reduce their risk of serious heart events such as heart attacks and strokes, rather than for weight loss.

A little more than half of all adults who said they have taken GLP-1 drugs say it was difficult to afford the cost, with 22% saying it was “very difficult,” according to KFF. Even among those who said insurance covered at least part of the cost, 53% said it was still difficult to afford.

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