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Tag: Richard Frank

Is getting people off weight loss medications the right move?

By RICHARD FRANK

Demand for GLP-1 medications soared last year and shows no signs of stopping in 2024. Employers and health plans are understandably anxious about how long they should expect to pay for these pricey drugs. They’re itching for an easy off-ramp.

Some solutions are cropping up to pave the way. Many of them claim they can help patients reap the benefits of GLP-1s within a short time frame, and get them off the drugs within 12 months to save costs. But the data doesn’t support that promise. In fact, studies suggest some patients may need to stay on the drugs indefinitely to sustain outcomes while other patients may be able to discontinue the drugs and at least maintain their cardiometabolic risk reduction even if they cannot maintain all of their weight loss. 

A better strategy to control costs is to more accurately pinpoint those who really need the drugs—and keep those who don’t off of them from the start. Of course, there will be times when deprescribing is appropriate, and we need to clinically support patients through that process. But one-size-fits-all solutions centered on medication as a silver bullet to obesity are only setting up patients and payers for failure. Similarly, those whose sole promise is to deprescribe, don’t follow the evidence.

Prescribing GLP-1s with the goal to deprescribe is foolhardy

GLP-1s treat obesity, but they don’t cure it. GLP-1 agonists increase the body’s own insulin production and slow the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. The drugs help people eat less by curbing cravings and boosting satiety. Studies show that once people go off semaglutide, the cravings come back in full force—and so does much of the weight.

While GLP-1 medications produce nearly miraculous outcomes in some people, they’re no quick fix. Obesity is a complex chronic disease. Drugs alone can’t solve for genetic predisposition, behaviors, mental and emotional components, social determinants of health, and other compounding elements that contribute to obesity. In the right circumstances, drugs can give people a solid leg up in better managing those contributing factors—but they’re not for everyone.

Keto is not a sustainable replacement for GLP-1s

Highly restrictive diets like the keto diet aren’t for everyone either. Keto requires a drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake, which can be difficult to maintain long-term. Not to mention, the high-fat content of keto diets can also lead to other health issues and isn’t conducive to tapering off of GLP-1 medications. Side effects from the drugs can make a high-fat diet difficult to tolerate.

It’s good to be wary of solutions that promise an off-ramp by way of highly restrictive diets. While a keto diet may help people lose weight in the short term, studies show that weight loss is rarely sustained over the long run and may be detrimental to overhaul health. The diet is associated with many complications that often lead to hospital admissions for dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and hypoglycemia.

Triage the right care to the right people at the right time

Obesity’s complex nature requires a personalized approach to treatment that delivers the right care to the right people at the right time. That takes a whole care team of specialized providers—like registered dietitians, health coaches, and prescribing physicians to help people at various stages of the disease. And since obesity often occurs alongside other cardiometabolic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, COPD, and more, patients need the help of specialists who understand how those different conditions interact.

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Medicare Advantage Plans Can Leverage Virtual Cardiometabolic Care

By RICHARD FRANK

By relying on virtual cardiometabolic solutions for continuous care, Medicare Advantage can produce better outcomes, curb costs, enhance member satisfaction — and improve Star ratings in the process.

Medicare Advantage is a hot market. Enrollment is steadily climbing and Medicare Advantage (MA) members now make up half the Medicare population. Though members keep rolling in, competition among MA plans is tight and turnover remains high. Nearly 16% of MA members switch plans at least once during their first year, while over a third end up switching by year three. Higher-need Medicare members tend to disenroll altogether, impacting Stars ratings.

On top of fierce competition for members, MA plans struggle with ballooning costs as rates of cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension persistently rise. It’s hard to overstate what a toll cardiometabolic conditions take on our nation’s seniors — especially since those conditions tend to co-occur and compound with age. We’re long overdue for more innovative solutions.

Poorly managed cardiometabolic conditions are significant drivers of MA medical expense trend and spend, member dissatisfaction, and, by extension, poor Star performance. But increasingly, virtual care companies are starting to turn some of those trends around. MA plans should take note. 

Virtual care provides value-based pricing and cost-saving interventions

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