Conservative Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) has been looking for a long time to tighten the US government’s belt. But now he has a novel idea for reducing the deficit: tightening Americans’ belts through Ozempic.
Schweikert wants to expand access to medications proven to help people lose weight, arguing that these drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy and Saxenda – known in the pharmaceutical world as “GLP-1 receptor agonists” – could improve health outcomes for Americans and thus reducing long-term healthcare costs.
“Next year the patent for one of the GLP-1s, the Ozempics, is expiring,” Schweikert said during a presentation to Four Peaks Young Republicans. “The price will crash. What would happen if you included and gave access to morbidly obese populations in Medicare, Medicaid, Indian Health Services and the VA?”
“It’s not fat shaming; It’s actually fat-loving,” Schweikert said. “We can love our brothers and sisters in a healthy way again.”
Perhaps the drug with the highest profile, Ozempic, has been popular on social media as influencers touted the drug as a miracle weight loss drug. TikTok users have viewed the Ozempic hashtag 1.3 billion times. Similar drugs such as Wegovy are also enjoying rapid popularity.
While social media users tout these drugs as miracle weight loss drugs, experts warn about Ozempic’s side effects malnutrition And Gastrointestinal problems, are not as pleasant as Ozempic obsessives might seem. Little is known about it long term Effects of the drug and other GLP-1.
Ozempic was initially developed and approved by the FDA as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Previously, commercials for the drugs touted that those who took the drug could experience some weight loss, and it wasn’t long before doctors began prescribing Ozempic as an “off-label” weight loss drug. Another GLP-1, Wegovy, has the same active ingredient as Ozempic and has been approved by the FDA for chronic weight control in overweight adults.
Many private insurers do not cover Weight loss medications, which often makes them unaffordable. Medicare can cover medications for type 2 diabetes, but because of a 2003 law, the program cannot cover medications specifically used for weight loss.
Schweikert mentioned Ozempic by name presentation to the Four Peaks Young Republicans, but during an interview last week he emphasized to The Daily Beast that he broadly sees the economic and health benefits of GLP-1 drugs.
“It’s more about the concept: What would happen if the most powerful thing you can do about U.S. debt – because the debt is out of control, we’re borrowing over $75,000 a second – is actually health? Schweikert asked.
(It should be noted that Schweikert has had some budget problems of his own. His campaign committee agreed to a $125,000 fine for misuse of donor funds in February 2022.)
Schweikert’s suggestion may sound silly — especially when so little is known about the long-term effects of these drugs — but there is some wisdom in the idea that drugs like Ozempic could shed pounds and reduce the federal deficit. At least partially.
The Joint Economic Committee, of which Schweikert is deputy chairman, published a report in July, which focused on federal health care spending and obesity. Economists on the committee project that government spending on obesity and obesity-related diseases will reach $4.1 trillion between 2024 and 2033.
“As I have long argued, demographics and disease are the primary causes of our debt,” Schweikert said in his portion of the report.
Schweikert told Young Republicans that expanding access to the GLP-1 could save “hundreds of millions of dollars in tax savings.”
Schweikert isn’t the only one thinking about Ozempic’s downstream effects. Airlines Recently it was found that passengers are losing weight would require planes to burn less fuel, which in turn could save each airline tens of millions.
“It increases productivity,” Schweikert said of these drugs during his presentation to the Four Peaks Young Republicans. “The population can participate in the economy.”
But Schweikert, a slim member of the House Freedom Caucus who represents parts of Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, Arizona, may be exaggerating exactly how much these drugs could help Americans offset lower numbers on the scale — and the government balance the budget.
A Congressional Budget Office for October Article Cast doubt on the idea that expanding Medicare coverage to GLP-1 for weight loss would currently reduce the national debt.
The budgetary impact of Medicare coverage for obesity drugs would depend on the specific drug costs. At current prices, which can top $1,000 a month, the CBO estimated that Medicare coverage of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic would “increase overall federal spending.”
The CBO acknowledged that greater use of the drugs could improve patient health and reduce the use of other health care products and services, which in turn could reduce federal spending on other forms of health care. However, the overall effect would depend on the cost of the drugs.
“They are very expensive,” Josh Gordon, director of health policy at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said of these drugs. “I think it’s true that over time there will be Medicare negotiations on these drugs and their prices could come down.”
“But even so, drugs tend to be quite expensive in the United States,” Gordon continued. “They are obviously developing newer forms of these drugs that may be more effective and lead to better adherence, but that will still cost money.”
Jonathan Watanabe, director of the Center for Data-Driven Drugs Research and Policy at the University of California, Irvine, said studies show potential benefits of these drugs on cardiovascular health in certain patients – and those benefits could reduce costly hospitalizations, strokes and stays on the intensive care unit.
“It still needs to be evaluated what the actual dollar impact of this will be,” Watanabe said.
Schweikert said he and other lawmakers working on the issue would continue to study the economic aspects of the proposal. He said specific guidelines are currently being drawn up.
“Above all, we try to capture the economic aspects. “Is our calculation correct?” he told The Daily Beast.
Two other lawmakers focused on improving access to weight loss medications — Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Raul Ruiz (D-CA), both doctors –introduced the Obesity Treatment and Reduction Act in July. This bill would allow Medicare to cover FDA-approved weight loss medications. Wenstrup also made a statement pointed out the potential long-term tax and health savings.
Ozempic and Wegovy were Cash cows for its manufacturer Novo Nordisk. The Danish drug giant spent $2.9 million in 2023 lobbying the federal government on a range of issues, including obesity drug coverage and the Obesity Treatment and Reduction Act.
Because Medicare doesn’t cover weight-loss drugs, many people who could benefit from the drugs have difficulty getting access, said Yuan Lu, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and chronic disease epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine.
“When we looked at the national data on people with obesity, we found that obesity disproportionately affects minorities and people in low-income and low socioeconomic status communities,” Lu said. “If their insurance doesn’t cover it, they can’t afford medication.”