Weight loss is a tumultuous journey most of us are familiar with. Conventional wisdom says that eating right and exercising are critical to dropping excess pounds. But sometimes a little external help is needed. This is where weight loss medications can help. The current market has produced a range of dietary drugs that make weight loss easier. Studies show that individuals who take these medicines as part of an overall lifestyle program lose an additional 3% to 12% of their starting body weight after a single year of administration. Why doesn’t everyone who is overweight or obese take these medications? The main reason is cost.
Weight loss medications tend to be downright expensive, which is a deterrent for those who may find them useful. In this blog post, we are going to discuss weight loss medication expenses and how to prevent them from weighing you down. We will discuss cheaper and more available drugs that can replace the more expensive drugs everyone happens to be raving about in popular culture. By the end, you are sure to be excited about the batch of today’s weight loss medicines that are helping the world become slimmer one dose at a time.
Weight Loss Medications are Expensive and in Short Supply
The latest studies show that 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. Not only is it tough carrying extra weight around, but being overweight or obese is harmful to health. These Americans are at an increased risk for ailments such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Being overweight or obese is not solely about willpower. Sometimes there is a genetic factor at play. Other causes for carrying too much weight include environment, illness, medications, and lifestyle factors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic Black adults followed by Hispanic adults are most likely to be overweight or obese. Black adults specifically, along with lower-income women, are most likely to be uninsured, and also least likely to get weight loss medications because they can’t afford them.
Some of the most popular weight loss medicines, including Wegovy and Ozempic (which are the same drug – Semaglutide – but come in different doses), cost upwards of $1,000 or more per month. Speaking to NBC News, Dr. Veronica Johnson, an obesity specialist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago said, “As a Black woman and treating patients who look like me, knowing that a lot of Black women struggle with the disease of obesity, I, unfortunately, can’t treat a lot of my patients the best way that I would like to.”
Not only are weight loss medicines cost-prohibitively expensive for some, but they are also difficult to come by. Demand has soared over the last year for popular drugs, which has limited the availability for these life-saving medicines in pharmacies nationwide. This has left doctors frustrated that those who would most benefit from these drugs are not able to get them.
Does Insurance Cover Weight Loss Medications?
The cost of these drugs could be helped if health insurance policies picked up some or all of the tab, but most policies lack coverage for weight loss medications. A vast majority of health care plans – particularly those for low-income families and older adults (such as Medicare and Medicaid) do not cover weight loss drugs at all.
Medicare contains language that covers weight loss (bariatric) surgery, but obesity medicines are nowhere to be found in the rules and regulations. And according to a 2022 report from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, fewer than 20 Medicaid programs across the nation pay for these medicines.
A group that represents the health insurance industry, AHIP, maintains that there is not enough evidence to show these medicines are effective options for keeping weight off long-term.
How Do Weight Loss Medications Work?
There are a variety of weight loss drugs on the market today. Each of them works a bit differently. Katy Brown, DO, Samaritan Weight Management Institute, explains how these medicines help people lose weight. “In general, these medications work in one of the following ways: to suppress appetite, decrease hunger, increase feelings of fullness, and decrease the tendency to turn to food due to emotions like boredom or stress.”
Katy stresses that weight loss drugs won’t be as effective for weight loss unless they are combined with healthy lifestyle changes. But she says, “Working in conjunction with good nutrition and regular exercise, weight loss medication can lessen the barriers to making important lifestyle changes.”
For many people who are overweight or obese, cutting calories, choosing healthier foods, eating smaller portions, and getting enough regular exercise to make a difference are habits that are difficult to adopt. Weight loss medications give you a push in the right direction to becoming healthy for life.
What Weight Loss Medications are Available and How Much Do They Cost?
Semaglutide (Wegovy) – $1,300 per month
Wegovy is a weekly injectable drug that replicates a hormone found in the intestine (GLP-1) that helps you feel fuller for extended periods of time.
Patients taking Wegovy lose an average of 15% of their excess weight on average over 16 months.
Tirzepatide (Mounjaro) – $1,200
Mounjaro, like Wegovy, is an injectable medication. At the moment, the medication is FDA-approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes but approval for weight loss is supposedly in the works.
Mounjaro helps you lose weight by decreasing food intake and slowing how fast food flows through your digestive system. You feel fuller faster after eating and you end up eating less overall.
Weight loss varies with Mounjaro according to dosage. Most patients lose between 12 and 25 pounds over 16 months.
Orlistat (Xenical) – $800 per month
Xenical works by stopping the fat you eat from being broken down by your digestive system. In turn, your body will not absorb those calories, helping you lose weight.
Patients taking Xenical tend to lose between 4 to 6 pounds within a year.
Phentermine – $35 per month
Phentermine works by suppressing your appetite. You lose weight because you end up eating less food. The drug is usually taken in temporary spurts for a few weeks at a time.
Patients taking Phentermine tend to lose around 8 pounds.
Phentermine/Topiramate ER (Qsymia) – $230 per month
Qsymia combines two medications that decrease your appetite and the amount of food you consume. Scientists are not fully aware of why this particular drug combination works. They only know that it does.
Patients taking Qsymia tend to lose between 16 and 22 pounds after one year.
Liraglutide (Saxenda) – $1,500 per month
Saxenda is a once-daily injection that slows the progression of food as it traverses through your stomach. You end up feeling fuller faster after eating. You also eat less overall. Saxenda offers effects that are similar to many diabetes medications.
Patients taking Saxenda tend to lose between 8 and 13 pounds after one year.
Bupropion/Naltrexone (Contrave) – $140 per month
Contrave combines the depression medication bupropion with naltrexone which blocks the brain’s reward system. Scientists are not entirely sure why this particular drug combination assists with weight loss. They only know that by taking them your brain no longer exerts so much energy seeking out food. Your appetite becomes more controlled, causing you to eat less.
Patients taking Contrave tend to lose between 4% and 8% of their excess weight after one year.
Do Weight Loss Medicines Have Side Effects?
Side effects of weight loss drugs vary depending on the medication and dosage. Most are mild with the most common including diarrhea, nausea, and constipation. These side effects can improve the longer the drug is taken. In a majority of cases, weight gain occurs after the drug is stopped.
The overall goal of weight loss medication is to start you on the path to becoming a healthier person. Sustained weight loss of as little as 5% of your excess weight can relieve you of the burden of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. You will also notice reductions in body fat, and improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, not to mention increased confidence and overall well-being.
Are There Cheaper Diet Drugs Available?
If you need weight loss medicines, there must be a way to get them cheaper without insurance. After all, we don’t want to see anyone on a street corner holding a sign that reads, “Will work for weight loss medications.” Of course, the more money you spend on weight loss medicines, the less you’ll have available for food. Imagine how much weight you’ll lose then.
To be serious, there are ways you can get cheaper weight loss medications when you need them. Websites such as GoodRx offer coupons for many of today’s popular diet drugs, such as Phentermine ($11), Qsymia ($198), and others. GoodRx also has a savings card you can download that allows you to get a 1-month or 3-month prescription of Mounjaro for as little as $25.
Who is a Good Candidate for Weight Loss Drugs?
Weight management medicines are not for everyone. You may be a suitable candidate for these drugs if you:
Have an Elevated BMI (Body Mass Index): Doctors look for a body mass index of greater than 27 with the presence of health-related problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, or a BMI greater than 30.
Commitment to a Healthy Lifestyle: Doctors like to know that you are committed to taking the steps necessary to eat healthier and exercise regularly, as these lifestyle changes are keys to long-term weight loss success.
Insurance Coverage: Weight loss drugs can be expensive and are not covered by all insurance plans. In the future, this may change. But for now, out-of-pocket expenses for these medicines can be hefty. These medicines range in cost from $25 per month to $1,300 per month. Make sure you check with your health insurance company to determine if your plan covers prescription diet drugs.
How Long Should You Take Weight Loss Medications?
How long you will need to take weight loss drugs depends on the ability of the medicine to help you lose weight and keep it off, and whether you experience side effects.
If you have lost sufficient enough weight for health improvement and are not experiencing side effects, your doctor may advise you to stay on the medicine indefinitely.
On the other hand, if you fail to lose at least 5% of your starting weight after a full year of taking the full dose of the medicine, your doctor will likely advise you to stop usage altogether. Your doctor may also change your treatment plan or switch you to a different weight loss drug. Your doctor will also ask about your lifestyle habits to see if changing your eating and exercise habits might make a difference.
If weight loss medicines do not help, your doctor may recommend a different tactic, such as bariatric (weight loss) surgery. Gastric sleeve surgery, for example, can help you lose up to 50% or more of your excess weight within the first two years. Most patients lose nearly 50% of their weight in the first six months alone.
Is Weight Gain Possible After Stopping Weight Loss Medication?
You will probably regain some of the lost weight after ceasing the usage of a weight loss drug. This is why developing healthy lifestyle habits is critical while you are taking the medicine so that weight regain is minimal once the drug is stopped.
Federal guidelines for physical fitness recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities each week. You may need to increase the amount of time spent exercising to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week to achieve long-term weight loss.
Are You Ready to Make a Change Using Weight Loss Medication?
Losing weight is not always as easy as eating less and exercising. Judy Monroe said it best in her book Understanding Weight-Loss Programs. “If weight loss were simple, no one would need special diets or weight-loss plans, because no one would be overweight in the first place.”
You should not be afraid to ask your doctor about weight loss medications that can make weight loss easier. These medicines cannot replace physical activity or healthy eating habits. All of these elements should go together if you want to be slimmer and healthier over the long term. Studies show that these medications work best when combined with a healthy lifestyle program.
You are now more familiar with the cost of weight loss medicines, how they work, and how to find cheaper drugs to help in your weight loss journey.
Want to learn more? Contact Healthy Life Bariatrics to schedule a consultation with Doctor Babak Moeinolmolki. Doctor Moeinolmolki knows how difficult it is to lose weight. He prescribes weight loss medication to patients who have tried diet and exercise but to no avail. Doctor Moeinolmolki can also prescribe weight loss surgery if you want a more permanent solution to weight loss. Dial (310)694-4486 now to choose a time for your consultation that works best for you.
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