By Jeff Jacques, MD, chief medical officer at Virgin Pulse
With obesity affecting 1 in 3 U.S. adults and a staggering $147 billion spent on obesity-related healthcare services annually, the situation can seem daunting. The impact of obesity extends beyond weight, triggering conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even cancers. In the battle against this pandemic, GLP-1 medications like Ozempic and Wegovy have earned their status as potential game-changers. But, like most things, they are not free of controversy.
GLP-1 medications have shown promising results in catalyzing weight loss yet are often shadowed by issues like high costs and potential risks, such as rebound weight gain.
At Virgin Pulse, we view weight management as a personal, complex journey that goes beyond medication. While effective for some, we believe GLP-1 medications should be seen as an accelerator or kick-start to meaningful weight loss, not a standalone, long-term solution. After all, what about those who do not qualify for GLP-1 treatments? Where do they find their path to sustainable weight management? And is the individual taking a GLP-1 medication supported on their unique journey?
We encourage stakeholders—employers, health plans, and providers—to view weight management holistically, focusing on behavior change and mental health support alongside medication, if applicable. A blend of these elements forms the foundation of a long-lasting solution that intercepts and addresses the core issues of obesity.
As the Chief Medical Officer of Virgin Pulse, I have spoken with various stakeholders on the $100-billion question. The potential of GLP-1 drugs is captivating—yet it can also be misleading. One thing is certain: there’s no magic pill for weight loss. The process entails confronting emotional and mental challenges tied to obesity and fostering behavior change to improve overall health. GLP-1 can instigate change but must be paired with a structured support system.
For businesses questioning their approach, our recommendation is straightforward:
- Acknowledge that medication alone is not enough: Obesity is expensive. Considering the interconnectivity between obesity, mental health, and various health conditions, organizations must address long-term commitments to their population. Formulate a comprehensive policy that aligns with long-term commitments and provides digital and expert resources to help people build healthy habits supporting sustainable, whole-person health outcomes.
- Prior authorization or utilization review can help manage costs: Balancing investments in employee health with organization’s financial stability is top of mind for leaders. A prior authorization process ensures that GLP-1 medications are used correctly and only when medically necessary. It also helps to make sure that the medication is appropriate for treatment and is the most cost-effective option.
- Beyond medication eligibility: Consider requiring employees to participate in an organization-sponsored weight management program for 12 months. This ensures that the individual is committed to change and establishes a foundation to create life-long healthy habits that prevent long-term medication dependencies.
- Provide alternatives: For those with a BMI of 25 to <30, provide access to intensive, prescription-free weight management programs delivered in phases to promote self-efficacy, backed with one-on-one expert coaching.
- If you are not already, embrace virtual care as part of your health plan benefits: As the primary care system struggles, integrating virtual advanced primary care in your health benefits plan can effectively address obesity-related health conditions. This model allows for a more cohesive healthcare approach.
We are here to help you develop a cost-effective chronic conditions and obesity benefits strategy
Virgin Pulse’s digital health, wellbeing, and navigation solutions, which have proven population health results in critical behavior change that results in biometric improvement for members and 3:1 value-on-investment for their employers (explained in this article) provides a map for how to effectively impact population health. VP Transform, a collection of digital therapeutics for condition prevention and management will soon to be part of Homebase for Health®. These evidence-based solutions with proven effectiveness for prediabetes, weight management, and blood pressure, help employees embrace sustainable and steady lifestyle modifications that last long after the program is complete. Virgin Pulse is your strategic partner. Reach out today to learn more.