The High Cost of Weight-Loss Drugs

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CreditCredit…Daniel Jurman

To the Editor:

Re “Ozempic Could Threaten the Federal Budget,” by Brian Deese, Jonathan Gruber and Ryan Cummings (Opinion guest essay, March 7):

Your essay about the fiscal impact of the new weight-loss drugs powerfully spotlights the fact that they could potentially cost more than $1 trillion per year. While this financial threat should result in more robust government negotiation of drug prices, it should also encourage policymakers to address a root cause of the obesity epidemic: the catastrophic proliferation of ultra-processed foods that are cheap, convenient and addictive.

A recent report in the B.M.J., a peer-reviewed medical journal, reaffirmed the results of extensive studies that showed that exposure to ultra-processed foods resulted in higher risks of diabetes, along with mental disorders and mortality.

If a miracle lung cancer drug had emerged decades ago, it would have been tragic if we had focused only on the cost of the drug and abandoned efforts to curtail smoking. We need explicit front-of-package labeling for ultra-processed foods, advertising and marketing regulation, effective public education efforts and targeted tax policies that require the industry to pay for the health consequences — the same strategies we used to combat tobacco’s adverse health effects.

James W. Lytle
Jamaica Plain, Mass.

To the Editor:

The writers of the guest essay contend that new weight-loss drugs known as GLP-1 agonists simply aren’t worth paying for at their “unusually high” U.S. price.

It’s a dubious claim. Sure, innovative medicines can be expensive at first, particularly in the U.S., which is responsible for funding an outsized share of drug development. But the long-term economic benefits of providing access to pharmaceutical breakthroughs typically offset the upfront costs.

Consider Covid-19. While the U.S. government spent an estimated $30 billion on Covid vaccines, America’s successful vaccination program averted an estimated $1.15 trillion in medical costs, according to an analysis from the Commonwealth Fund.

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