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Ozempic, Wegovy: Sanders launches Senate investigation into ‘scandalously high’ drug pricing

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Tom Little/Reuters/File

Novo Nordisk said it remains committed to working with policymakers on ways to support access and affordability.



CNN

Senator Bernie Sanders takes aim at the high prices of the blockbusters Ozempic and Wegovy.

The Vermont senator, an independent who has long criticized drug manufacturers for their expensive products, is launching an investigation into the “scandalously high prices” charged by Novo Nordisk for the drugs.

“The scientists at Novo Nordisk deserve much 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 do no good to the millions of patients who cannot afford them,” Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a letter to the drugmaker’s CEO on Wednesday . “Furthermore, if prices for these products are not substantially reduced, they also have the potential to bankrupt Medicare, Medicaid and our entire health care system.”

Sanders asks Novo Nordisk to answer whether it will “substantially reduce” the prices of the drugs and to provide information on how much it makes from selling the drugs, how much it has spent on research and development and how it keeps prices has decided.

Ozempic has been approved by the U.S. 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 Wegovy’s price unchanged at $1,349. The drugmaker told CNN in February that it increases the list prices of some drugs each year based on changes in the health care system, inflation and market conditions.

Sanders’ letter notes that researchers at Yale University recently discovered that these drugs “can be produced profitably for less than $5 per month.” Additionally, Ozempic costs just $155 in Canada and $59 in Germany, while Wegovy can be purchased for $140 in Germany and $92 in the United Kingdom, the senator noted.

Novo Nordisk agrees with Sanders that access to the medicines 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 is easy to oversimplify the science involved in understanding disease and developing and producing new treatments, as well as the complexity of the U.S. and global healthcare systems,” said Novo Nordisk. “However, the public debate does not always take this extremely complex reality into account.”

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

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

Medicare is not legally allowed to cover weight loss medications, but it does cover Ozempic for enrollees with diabetes and Wegovy for people with cardiovascular disease who are overweight or obese. According to KFF, it spent $4.6 billion on Ozempic in 2022, up from $2.6 billion the year before.

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

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

CNN’s Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.

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