Sen. Bernie Sanders launches Senate investigation into 'high' pricing of Ozempic, Wegovy

ByTami Luhby and Katherine Dillinger, CNNWire
Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking aim at the high prices of the blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy.

The Vermont senator, an independent who has long called out drug manufacturers for their costly products, is launching an investigation into the "outrageously high prices" Novo Nordisk charges for the drugs.

"The scientists at Novo Nordisk deserve great credit for developing these drugs that have the potential to be a game changer for millions of Americans struggling with type 2 diabetes and obesity. As important as these drugs are, they will not do any good for the millions of patients who cannot afford them," Sanders, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote Wednesday in a letter to the drugmaker's CEO. "Further, if the prices for these products are not substantially reduced, they also have the potential to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid, and our entire health care system."

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Sanders is asking Novo Nordisk to answer whether it will "substantially reduce" the prices of the medications as well as to provide information on how much it makes from selling the drugs, how much it spent on research and development and how it determined the prices.

Ozempic is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat diabetes and Wegovy to help certain people lose weight or lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. Both are injectable drugs that use the active ingredient semaglutide, one of a class of medications called GLP-1 receptor agonists.

Novo Nordisk increased the list price for Ozempic by 3.5% this year to $969 for a four-week supply but kept the price of Wegovy unchanged at $1,349. The drugmaker told CNN in February that it increases the list prices of some medications each year based on changes in the health care system, inflation and market conditions.

Sanders' letter notes that researchers at Yale University recently found that these medications "can be profitably manufactured for less than $5 a month." Also, Ozempic costs only $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany, while Wegovy can be purchased for $140 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom, the senator pointed out.

Novo Nordisk agrees with Sanders that access to the medications is important for patients, the company said in a statement. It said it remains committed to working with policymakers on ways to support access and affordability.

"It's easy to oversimplify the science that goes into understanding disease and developing and producing new treatments, as well as the intricacies of U.S. and global healthcare systems," Novo Nordisk said. "However, the public debate doesn't always take into account this extremely complex reality."

For most Americans, the price they pay for medications depends on their health insurance policies, not drugmakers' list prices. However, they may have to pay the list price if they are uninsured or have not yet hit their annual deductible. In addition, many drug manufacturers, including Novo Nordisk, offer savings cards and patient assistance programs that can reduce certain people's out-of-pocket costs.

Ozempic is also proving costly for the federal government, while Wegovy's recent approval to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes is expected to add to the tab.

Medicare is not allowed by law to cover drugs for weight loss but will cover Ozempic for enrollees with diabetes and Wegovy for those with cardiovascular disease who are overweight or obese. It spent $4.6 billion on Ozempic in 2022, compared with $2.6 billion the year before, according to KFF.

Another KFF analysis found that Wegovy could cost Medicare nearly $3 billion a year. Neither analysis took into account rebates, information on which is not publicly available.

The spike in spending on these drugs will probably contribute to higher Part D premiums for all beneficiaries.

CNN's Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.