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Updated: March 18, 2024 Know How

Evolving workplace expectations and the demand for new weight-loss drugs

Employers have made significant investments in employee health and wellness to curb healthcare costs, improve productivity, enhance employee well-being, and increase employee retention and attraction. Today, employees are looking well beyond traditional wellness programs and incentives.

A woman wearing a purple blazer, a black shirt, and a pearl necklace smiles at the camera.
Chrystine M. Heier is president of Sullivan Benefits in Marlborough.

A rising demand for GLP-1 weight loss drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound underscores evolving employee expectations.

With more than 40% of the US adult population considered obese, it’s hard to dismiss the potential effect these new drugs could have on health.

What are GLP-1 drugs?

Glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists drugs, originally intended to treat Type 2 diabetes, effectively lower blood sugar levels, curb appetite, and slow food release. With potential weight loss up 15% of an individual’s body weight, these drugs demonstrate cardiovascular benefits, lowering the risk of heart disease and improving cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Considerations and caution

Administered by injection, GLP-1 drugs pose common side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and other more severe issues, including pancreatitis and gastroparesis. Longer-term consequences are unknown.

Not suitable for everyone, the Centers for Disease Control guidelines specify eligibility for adults with a body mass index above 30, or a BMI above 27 for individuals with obesity-related comorbidities. Most health plans providing coverage follow the CDC’s obesity standard and require additional behavior modification protocols. Individuals taking these medications without behavior modification will need to use them indefinitely to sustain weight loss, as stopping will make their appetite return.

Financial implications

Prices range from $1,000 to $1,500 monthly. Unlike one-time bariatric surgery, GLP-1 drugs were intended for extended use, requiring ongoing financial commitment.

Health plan coverage considerations

Most local managed care providers cover GLP-1s in their fully insured health plans. Inquiries for self-funded health plans should be direct to your plan administrator, as coverage may or may not be included.

In the absence of coverage, generic alternatives like bupropion, liraglutide, or orlistat, along with patient assistance programs from drug manufacturers, offer viable options. Accessing discounted drugs through platforms like GoodRx and SingleCare enhances affordability.

Whether or not your health plan covers GLP-1 drugs, employers should understand their coverage and be able to guide employees to appropriate resources and support.

Employee perspectives

In a survey conducted by weight-loss services provider Ro, 44% of respondents expressed willingness to change jobs for obesity treatment coverage. This trend is expected to intensify, emphasizing the need for employers to comprehend the evolving healthcare landscape and align benefits with employee expectations.

Strategic approach required

To attract and retain talent, employers should adopt a holistic approach, acknowledging the growing importance of obesity treatment coverage. However, a lasting solution requires addressing core issues through behavior change and mental health support, irrespective of drug availability. This approach aligns with the evolving expectations of a diverse and health-conscious workforce.

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