A person uses Ozempic

A person uses Ozempic on November 2, 2023, in Madrid, Spain.

(Photo: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Sanders Warns 'Unjustifiably High' Prices of Weight Loss Drugs Could Bankrupt US Health System

"There is no rational reason, other than greed, for Novo Nordisk to charge Americans struggling with obesity $1,349 for Wegovy when this exact same product can be purchased for just $186 in Denmark," said the senator.

Releasing the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee's findings on the prices of weight loss drugs in the United States, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday ramped up pressure on a Danish pharmaceutical company to lower the "outrageously high" prices of Ozempic and Wegovy, warning that the current pricing could bankrupt the country's healthcare system.

As chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Sanders (I-Vt.) is leading an investigation into Novo Nordisk's weight loss drug pricing, and the report published Wednesday is the result of modeling his staff completed to show how the medications' exorbitant prices could impact prescription drug pricing across the United States.

The committee found that if half of all U.S. adults with obesity took Wegovy and other diabetes drugs that have recently been approved for weight loss, it could cost $411 billion per year. In 2022, Americans spent $406 billion on all retail prescription drugs.

Medicare and Medicaid would spend an estimated $166 billion per year on the medications if half of the programs' patients used them, rivaling the $175 billion the programs spent on prescription drugs in 2022.

"Today's report makes it crystal clear: The outrageously high price of Wegovy and other weight loss drugs have the potential to bankrupt Medicare and our entire health care system," said Sanders.

The projected costs are a far cry from what patients in Denmark and other European countries would pay for the same drugs.

Americans currently pay $969 per month for Ozempic and $1,349 per month for Wegovy. While the two drugs have the same active ingredient, the former is typically used to treat Type 2 diabetes and the latter is for weight loss and management.

Ozempic costs just $155 in Canada, $71 in France and $59 in Germany. Danish patients pay just $186 per month for Wegovy, while the medication costs $137 in Germany and $92 in the U.K.

Sanders' report says that Novo Nordisk's prices are "especially egregious" considering the fact that the company could make a profit off manufacturing them for less than $5 per month.

"The unjustifiably high prices of these weight loss drugs could also cause a massive spike in prescription drug spending that could lead to an historic increase in premiums for Medicare and everyone who has health insurance," said the senator. "There is no rational reason, other than greed, for Novo Nordisk to charge Americans struggling with obesity $1,349 for Wegovy when this same exact product can be purchased for just $186 in Denmark."

The report cites the North Carolina state health plan's decision last month to end coverage for Wegovy and similar medications.

The plan administrators "estimated that continuing coverage for Wegovy at its current price would require them to double insurance premiums. Faced with impossible choices, the health plan eliminated coverage," reads the report.

The reason nearly 20,000 teachers and other state employees in North Carolina lost access to the drugs, the report emphasizes, "was not because there were not enough drugs to meet demand, but because Novo Nordisk refused to lower prices to make those drugs widely available."

Thirty-five state Medicaid programs do not cover the medications at all, the HELP Committee noted, due to the price.

"As important as these drugs are, they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them," reads the report. "Further, if the prices for these products are not substantially reduced, they have the potential to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid, and our entire healthcare system."

The committee found that if Novo Nordisk made the U.S. price of Wegovy equal to what Danish patients pay, the healthcare system could pay for new weight loss drugs for 100% of adults with obesity annually for less than what it costs to cover just 25% of those patients at the current drug prices.

The healthcare system would save up to $317 billion per year, according to the committee's modeling.

The report was released days after Sanders appealed to the Danish government in the pages of one of the country's largest newspapers, Politiken, calling on officials to force Novo Nordisk to lower U.S. prices.

"As many Danes may know, I have long admired the welfare system that has been built up in Denmark," wrote Sanders. "When I was a candidate for the presidency, I often pointed out that the United States could learn a lot from Denmark in terms of access to healthcare and education, as well as respect for the environment and workers' rights. There is a reason why Denmark is considered one of the happiest places on Earth in international surveys. The Danish people should be proud of what you have managed to achieve."

"So now I want to appeal to the people of Denmark and the charitable foundation that owns this hugely profitable company," he continued. "Help the American people do something about the epidemic of obesity and diabetes we are facing."

Pelle Dragsted, a member of Danish Parliament for the Red-Green Alliance and a democratic socialist, applauded Sanders' op-ed.

"Healthcare is a human right," said Dragsted on Monday. "Having an illness should never be the ruin of anyone. Our message to Novo Nordisk is clear: Choose basic decency and social responsibility over profit—lower your prices in the U.S."

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