Wegovy could bankrupt U.S. health system, Sanders says in new report

May 15, 2024

Blockbuster weight-loss drug Wegovy could bankrupt the U.S. healthcare system unless the price drops, according to a staff report released Wednesday from the office of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

Unless prices dramatically decline, Wegovy and weight loss drugs could push Americans to spend $1 trillion per year on prescription drugs, the report concluded.  

“Pricing drugs based on their value cannot serve as a blank check, or the sole determinant for how we understand what to pay for essential goods,” the report stated. As important as these drugs are, they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them.” 

The report ups the pressure from Sanders on Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk to lower the price of Wegovy and Ozempic.

In April, Sanders and the HELP Committee launched an investigation into why the company is charging Americans substantially higher prices than other countries.  

Novo Nordisk charges Americans with type 2 diabetes $969 a month for Ozempic, compared to just $155 in Canada, $122 in Italy, $71 in France, and $59 in Germany.  

The company lists Wegovy for $1,349 a month in the U.S. compared to $186 in Denmark, $137 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 42 percent o.f American adults have obesity, and over 11 percent of the population has diabetes.  

If half of American adults with obesity took Wegovy and the other new weight loss drugs, it could cost the health care system $411 billion per year—more than total spending for all retail prescription drugs in 2022, the report found. 

The committee report noted the company has not yet provided the net pricing data requested as part of the investigation, but staff estimated net prices to be $809 per month after rebates. 

Many private health insurance plans cover the drugs to some extent, though increasingly employers and plans have restricted access or ended coverage completely as they struggle with the costs. 

Medicare is prohibited by law from covering drugs solely for weight loss. However, Wegovy was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce the risk of serious heart problems in people who are overweight or obese.  

With that new indication, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has opened the door for coverage for more patients. 

In a statement, a Novo spokesperson said the company is reviewing the report and continues to cooperate with the investigation.