Telehealth companies, health insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers are playing the blame game amid a shortage of popular weight loss drugs.
Wegovy manufacturer Novo Nordisk said in May shortages of certain doses of the weight loss drug are expected to persist through September. The shortage of weight loss medications known as glucagon-like peptide agnostics, or GLP-1s, also includes Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug Ozempic and Eli Lilly’s Trulicity, according to a Food and Drug Administration database.
Novo Nordisk attributed the shortage to rising consumer demand. On its website, the company also noted it is not supplying telehealth companies directly with Wegovy. It referenced media reports that some telehealth providers were not providing sufficient clinical evaluations prior to prescribing. The company wrote Wegovy should only be prescribed after a “close consultation between a licensed healthcare provider and a patient.”
Telehealth companies have their own explanation for the shortage. Calibrate, an early telehealth company prescribing GLP-1s, said the problem is not consumer demand for GLP-1 medications.
“[It] is that payers and providers are not working together to increase access to GLP-1 medications,” founder and CEO Isabelle Keyon said in an emailed statement.
Telehealth company Ro, in a Monday blog post by co-founder and CEO Zachariah Reitano, attributed the lack of access to Wegovy for its subscribers to a manufacturer shortage and limited insurance coverage.
Payers have taken a cautious approach to handling rising demand for weight loss drugs whose list prices can surpass $13,600 per patient each year. Payers say they support patients’ ability to access GLP-1s but are hesitant to offer broad coverage because of the high costs set by manufacturers.
Telehealth companies are trying to work through the supply issues. Ro is calling up to 10 pharmacies per day to ensure prescriptions for each individual patient, Reitano wrote on the blog. It’s also pausing TV ads and other promotional efforts around Wegovy.
Ro and Calibrate are helping patients find which nearby pharmacies are able to fill GLP-1 prescriptions. Reitano said Ro is notifying patients that certain drugs remain in short supply and offering credits for unfilled medications.
A number of companies have recently announced intentions to prescribe GLP-1s via telehealth but the situation may complicate those efforts.
In late May, digital health weight loss company Noom launched a telemedicine company to add obesity medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy to its suite of services. A spokesperson said the company would work with patients to come up with alternatives if patients were unable to fill a prescription.
WeightWatchers acquired telehealth company Sequence in March to offer users access to drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Trulicity. A combined clinical weight management program incorporating prescription medications via Sequence has not launched.
Teladoc entered the weight loss drug market in April. Dr. Jason Tibbels, Teladoc’s Health chief quality officer, said in a statement the company’s physicians work with members to review formulary options, which could include a lower cost medication.