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The Role of Pharmacy and Employer Strategies in the Obesity Crisis

01/12/2024 Written by: Keenan & Associates

Obesity rates have surged worldwide, creating a critical global health crisis, affecting all demographics and contributing to a range of chronic diseases. According to Trust for America’s Health, as of 2023, 41.9% of U.S. adults are obese, with significant disparities observed among different ethnic groups and geographical locations. Children and adolescents are not spared, with nearly 20% being obese. This escalation poses a substantial risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

The economic impact of obesity is profound, based on The State of Obesity 2023 Report from Trust for America’s Health illustrates the U.S. healthcare spending by an estimated $170 billion annually. This financial strain extends across the healthcare system, affecting insurance premiums, patient care costs, and public health funding.

Recent advancements in weight loss drugs offer new hope in this fight. These include:

  • GLP-1 Agonists (e.g., Liraglutide, Semaglutide): Originally developed for diabetes treatment, these drugs have shown effectiveness in promoting weight loss. They work by enhancing insulin secretion and inducing a feeling of fullness.
  • Combination Therapies (e.g., Bupropion-Naltrexone): This method combines drugs with varying interactions to promote weight loss. For example, Bupropion-Naltrexone combines an antidepressant with an opioid antagonist for appetite control, often leading to weight loss.
  • Selective Serotonin 2C Receptor Agonists (e.g., Lorcaserin): This class of drugs works by activating specific brain receptors to enhance satiety.
  • Lipase Inhibitors (e.g., Orlistat): These medications work by reducing the absorption of fat in the diet, which can also result in reduced cholesterol levels and improving overall cardiometabolic risk factors.

Each of these drugs has its own profile of effectiveness, side effects, and cost considerations. The choice of medication should be tailored to the individual patient based on their health status and weight loss goals, in combination with an active lifestyle and healthy diet.

As health plan sponsors, employers play a crucial role in combating the obesity crisis within their organizations, and there are things they can do to support their employees’ on their health journeys.

  • Health Benefits Design: Incorporate coverage for weight management programs, including access to nutrition counseling, gym memberships, and potentially weight loss medications.
  • Wellness Programs: Develop comprehensive wellness initiatives that encourage healthy lifestyles, such as fitness challenges, healthy eating workshops, and stress management sessions.
  • Education and Awareness: Regularly disseminate information about obesity, its risks, and management strategies, including the potential role of weight loss medications.
  • Employee Assistance Programs: Offer programs that support mental health, as mental well-being is often a key component in managing weight.
  • Collaboration with Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs): Work with PBMs to ensure that weight loss medications are included in health plans when appropriate and that employees are educated about these options.

PBMs are uniquely positioned to influence obesity management through their role in medication access and healthcare plan design:

  • Formulary Management: PBMs can ensure that effective weight loss medications are included in the formulary, balancing cost and accessibility.
  • Cost-Effectiveness Analysis: Consulting services can help in analyzing the cost-effectiveness of obesity medications versus long-term healthcare costs arising from obesity-related conditions.
  • Benefit Design and Education: PBMs and consultants can assist in designing benefits that promote obesity management, including coverage for medications, counseling, and wellness programs. They can also provide educational resources to employers and patients about the safe and effective use of weight loss medications.
  • Data Analytics and Outcomes Measurement: Utilizing data analytics, PBMs can track the effectiveness of obesity medications and management strategies, helping to tailor and improve care plans.

The obesity epidemic is a multifaceted issue requiring an integrated approach. The pharmacy sector, as a key player in healthcare, has a significant role in addressing this crisis through medication management, patient education, and community engagement. By working collaboratively with other healthcare providers and policymakers, pharmacies can contribute to a broader strategy aimed at reducing obesity rates and improving public health.

With January 1st renewal season behind us, now is an ideal time to work with your benefits consulting team to begin tailoring your pharmacy strategy. For more information on Keenan Pharmacy Services or to begin discussions on pharmacy management strategies, please contact your AssuredPartners Account Team.

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