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Do Employees Want Weight Loss Drugs as a Benefit?

Do Employees Want Weight Loss Drugs as a Benefit?

If you haven’t heard about Ozempic or Zepbound yet, it’s bound to hit your radar soon!  

But really, even Oprah has admitted to using Ozempic, an injection taken weekly, to lose weight. Many celebrities, business leaders, influencers, and more are privately or openly taking the medication.  

As these drugs grow in popularity, employers face an interesting challenge: should access to Ozempic or Zepbound, which can retail at over $1,000, be provided by your place of work?  

According to Healthline, 20% of Americans say yes when asked if they would change jobs to join an organization that sponsors Ozempic or Zepbound as a healthcare benefit. 67% of respondents claimed they would stay at a job or company they hate if it also provided Ozempic or Zepbound as benefits.  

As an HR professional, one of your top concerns is improving retention and recruitment rates. So let’s cover what these drugs are, the companies that produce them, and determine if providing access to these medications is worthwhile for your organization.


Background: Weight Loss Drugs Hit the Market  

A well-kept Hollywood secret was unearthed toward the end of the pandemic. Celebrities and famous figures showed unexplained, speedy signs of weight loss—and people worldwide wanted to know how. It soon came to light that a new drug intended for type 2 diabetics was part of the reason.  

Diabetes is a condition in which the body struggles to naturally produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. A 2015 study reported that 352 million people globally have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is caused by various factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise.   

In 2012, Noro Nordisk, a Dutch pharmaceutical company, began formulating medications with the active ingredient semaglutide, which encourages insulin production. The goal was to find a drug with longer-lasting effects on treating type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide emerged as a winning opportunity, and Noro Nordisk took steps to introduce it to the market under the patented name Ozempic.  

Clinical trials for Ozempic began in 2016, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved it to manage diabetic conditions in 2017. Further trials quickly realized the drug also aided in weight loss, and by 2021, the creators of Ozempic patented a higher-dose product called Wegovy as an anti-obesity medication.  

Around the same time, American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly patented Mounjaro, which contains the same active ingredients as Ozempic and competes in the same market. The common base of these products is semaglutide, but of course, the rest of the recipe is protected as a trade secret.   

So, to recap the significant players and names to know: 


What Are Wegovy and Zepbound?  

  • Wegovy is an anti-obesity drug that is a higher-dose version of Ozempic and is produced and distributed by Noro Nordisk, a Dutch pharmaceutical company.  
    • Ozempic is likely to be covered by insurance carriers since it treats a medical condition. Wegovy is rarely covered.  
  • Zepbound is an anti-obesity drug that is a higher-dose version of Mounjaro and is produced and distributed by Eli Lilly, an American pharmaceutical company. 
    • Mounjaro is likely to be covered by insurance carriers since it treats a medical condition. Zepbound is rarely covered.   




Should Employers Offer Weight Loss Drugs As a Benefit? 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 73% of adults aged 20 or older are overweight or obese. Products that aid in weight loss aren’t just popular—they are on backorder in many countries and smaller municipalities. Reports state that European nation Belgium is considering a ban on the anti-obesity versions of Ozempic and Mounjaro due to the scarcity created by the demand. Diabetics are struggling to fill prescriptions for the drugs due to their increasing popularity.   

Scarcity is less of an issue in America, but the demand is even higher. However, many struggle to gain access to the drugs and are turning to their employers for help. That is because Wegovy and Zepbound are rarely covered by insurance, and these drugs are expensive.  

Employers have an opportunity to provide employer-sponsored access to these weight loss alternatives, which can significantly reduce turnover and prove a competitive advantage when recruiting talent. Many of your employees may be part of the nation’s 73%, and these medications can help them lead healthier, happier lives. 

However, for a small to midsized employer, providing Wegovy/Zepbound as a benefit to your workforce may be cost-prohibitive. The drugs retail at around $1,000, in some cases $1,400, for a month’s supply. That’s only four shots, which are injected by the prescribed person weekly. 

So, considering the potential benefit of providing employer-sponsored access compared to the costs, what are you to do? 

If you want to add this benefit to your package, call your benefits broker. If they attend Weekdays with Bernie 2024, they will be armed with everything you need to know about these drugs and if/how to provide them.  ​​ 

If your benefits broker is unsure about this, another way to determine if it’s right for you is to perform a cost analysis of the situation. How much money might your company save on retention and recruitment costs by offering improved access to Wegovy or Zepbound?  

As an HR professional, you’re best positioned to dive into the issues your organization faces and develop creative solutions. This may be one of them!    


Additional Resources

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  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
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  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
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