Healthcare Insurance

What’s Next for GLP-1s in 2024?

03/19/2024 Written by: Noom

In the last couple of years, medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Zepbound have become household names. These new glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1s) represent a paradigm shift in how we treat and think about obesity as a medical disease that finally has an effective management solution.

We have identified some important GLP-1 trends that promise to reshape American life—and employer bottom lines–in the upcoming year. Cost and affordability will, of course, stay top of mind for employers and their employees, while access to personalized, high-quality treatment will become a priority amid a global GLP-1 shortage and scarcity in obesity specialists.

With that in mind, here are seven key predictions about GLP-1s for 2024:

1. Consumer demand for GLP-1s will continue to fuel the rapid evolution of new formulations.

From 2017 to March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 41.9% of U.S. adults have obesity or roughly 89 million people based on 2022 NCHS population data. But, according to a 2023 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) health tracking poll, only 4% of adults surveyed were taking any kind of prescription weight loss medication. It is anticipated that this outsized demand will continue to fuel rapid drug development.

2. Global GLP-1 shortages will last through 2024—leaving even more patients behind.

One of the biggest concerns about the supply issues impacting access to GLP-1 products is how the shortage will continue to accelerate the rise of unsafe and unauthorized medications. In particular, a growing number of compounding pharmacies are stepping in and trying to fill the gap. Unfortunately, compounded medications are not tested or regulated by the FDA, and can result in serious side effects for patients.

3. The GLP-1 shortage will further exacerbate health care disparities.

Obesity continues to disproportionately impact people of color in this country. And this disparity has only been exacerbated by the cost of GLP-1 drugs. In recent years, there has been a growing number of people who are willing to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for GLP-1s; however, this option is often not available for many members of marginalized racial and ethnic communities who are often unable to pay the full price of these medications.

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4. Centers for excellence for obesity will increasingly emerge.

Obesity is a growing epidemic that affects approximately 89 million U.S. adults, yet the number of doctors who specialize in obesity medicine hovers somewhere around 7,740. Thankfully, more centers of excellence for obesity care are emerging to help close the treatment gap. Some of these centers will operate virtually to centralize clinician expertise and deliver medically assisted non-invasive treatments, while others will offer in-person care and more invasive, definitive treatments such as bariatric surgery.

5. Investment in research on the long-term efficacy of GLP-1s will ramp up.

The research on the long-term effects of GLP-1s for weight loss is limited at the present time. While it has been seen that some patients can achieve very significant weight loss on these medications, it has also been reported from currently available data that the majority of patients seem to regain weight after stopping a GLP-1. These two data points will drive new research that addresses the following questions: The first is, what treatment duration is needed to support significant weight loss? And what role would an intensive lifestyle support measure play in reducing long-term dependency and supporting healthy weight loss and maintenance after stopping the GLP-1?

6. GLP-1s will become less costly due to increasing competition—but employer spend will continue to rise.

While GLP-1s will become less costly over time due to increasing competition, predictions indicate that employer spending will continue to rise because a growing number of employees are expected to become eligible for these medications in the coming years.

7. As more employers look to cover GLP-1s, balancing coverage with affordability will become imperative.

Employers’ attitudes toward GLP-1s are starting to shift: 99% of companies that cover this class of drugs today plan to continue. Employers recognize that employees are very interested in these medications and that they are seen as an attractive and highly desired benefit. GLP-1 coverage in employer plans is expected to nearly double in 2024 to 43%, as compared to just 25 percent in 2023.

As we move forward into 2024, consumer interest in GLP-1s shows no signs of abating. This growing demand will continue to spark innovation—as evidenced by the dozens of new formulations in the pipeline—yet cost and access will remain significant obstacles for employers and employees alike.

Crafting a proactive utilization and care management approach will be essential for organizations that want to ensure these drugs are prescribed in a medically appropriate and equitable fashion.

As your organization thinks about how to navigate the landscape of GLP-1s and support employees as they seek the healthcare they need, reach out to your AssuredPartners team for more information on Noom for Work and other unique solutions for your organization.

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