Overcoming the stigma
Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, agreed and hopes that the new ICER report will help more patients secure needed medications, raising a “call to arms” about the need for better coverage of obesity drugs.
Dr. Kahan is director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, a private clinic in Washington, and chair of the clinical committee for The Obesity Society. He also served as a member of a policy roundtable that ICER convened as part of research on the report on obesity drugs. Dr. Kahan, who also serves on the faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, has received fees from drug makers such as Eli Lilly.
The ICER report may help what Dr. Kahan described as well-founded caution about obesity treatments in general.
“When it comes to weight loss, there are all of these magical treatments that are sold on social media and traditional media. There are a lot of bad actors in terms of people calling themselves experts and gurus and promising all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Dr. Kahan.
And there are long-standing stigmas about obesity, he stressed.
“That underlies a lot of the backward policies, including poor coverage for medications and the noncoverage by Medicare,” Dr. Kahan said. “There’s a societal ingrained set of beliefs and misperceptions and biases. That takes time to unwind, and I think we’re on the way, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Lifestyle changes not enough to tackle obesity
AHIP (formerly America’s Health Insurance Plans) told this news organization its members consider ICER reports when making decisions about which products to cover. “And health plans already cover obesity treatments that they consider medically necessary,” said David Allen, an AHIP spokesperson.
“It is important to note that every treatment does not work for every patient, and many patients experience adverse events and may discontinue treatment,” he added in an email. “Health insurance providers play an important role in helping [health care] providers and patients identify the treatment options that are most likely to be effective as well as affordable.”
Separately, the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen cautioned against liraglutide on its Worst Pills, Best Pills website. In its view, the drug is minimally effective and has many dangerous adverse effects, which are even more frequent with the higher-dose weight-loss version (a lower-dose version is approved for type 2 diabetes).
“There is currently no medication that can be used safely to achieve weight loss effortlessly and without dangerous adverse effects,” the group said. “Rather than focus on losing weight by turning to risky drugs, overweight and obese adults seeking to achieve better health should make reasonable and sustainable changes to their lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.”
Yet, many people find there is little help available for making lifestyle changes, and some patients and physicians say these modifications by themselves are not enough.
“The vast majority of people with obesity cannot achieve sustained weight loss through diet and exercise alone,” said David Rind, MD, chief medical officer of ICER, in an Oct. 20 statement. “As such, obesity, and its resulting physical health, mental health, and social burdens, is not a choice or failing, but a medical condition.”
The focus should now be on assuring that effective medications “are priced in alignment with their benefits so that they are accessible and affordable across U.S. society,” Dr. Rind urges.