Are weight loss drugs only available to the wealthy?

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After serving on the board for almost a decade, Oprah Winfrey has parted ways with WeightWatchers. The news sent the company’s stock into a tailspin this week. Now, the future of weight loss companies hangs in the balance as weight loss drugs take off in popularity.

“She found the most success in her life by using these drugs; not by WeightWatchers or liquid diets or many of the things she has done before,” said Laura Ries, chairwoman of Ries Positioning Strategy & Consulting.

The drugs are especially popular among high-income Americans, who have the easiest time getting their hands on them. Not all private insurance companies cover the drugs, and when they do they often limit who is eligible for coverage. For the nearly 66 million Americans on Medicare, the drugs for weight loss aren’t typically covered at all. So if you fall in either of those camps, that means you could be paying at least $900 dollars out of pocket per month. 

As Winfrey ends her longtime partnership with Weight Watchers, it’s a reminder that not everyone who would benefit from these medications can access them.

A 2022 report from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review found the high prices for the drugs cause financial hardship for many patients, increase disparities in access to treatment, and push general health care costs up. The report calls for the drugs to be made affordable, and some researchers urge coverage by Medicare.

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