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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Weight loss drug shows promise, but cost remains a barrier for many

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David J. Phillip
/
AP file
Ozempic is not covered by all insurance policies for weight loss and can cost nearly $1,000 without it. This has caused many people to search for cheaper alternatives that may not be the safest option.

The diabetes drug Ozempic has recently gained popularity due to its weight loss side effect. It’s being hailed as a miracle drug, leaving many patients wondering if it’s too good to be true.

closeup of woman smiling
courtesy
Rachel Fehl with OSF HealthCare.

In this edition of WGLT’s Sound Health, Rachel Fehl, an advanced practice nurse with the OSF HealthCare Weight Management Center in Peoria, explained how the drug works and addressed common misconceptions and accessibility barriers.

“It works by managing some of the peptides in our gut that control not only hunger but also insulin,” Fehl said.

Since Ozempic was not originally created for weight loss, the company who created the drug made a specific weight loss version of it called Wegovy. According to Fehl, it works similarly to Ozempic, with a minor addition.

“It works really well in our brain to control appetite,” Fehl said. “So even as we’re doing research, we’re not entirely sure why it works so well in the brain, but appetite is controlled.”

Fehl wants to remind patients that weight loss is achieved by a combination of efforts rather than simply relying on Ozempic and its counterparts, no matter how effective they may be.

“Medication is one piece of it,” she said. If that medication isn’t taken in conjunction with some lifestyle changes, then we can have more side effects, [or] things that we don’t want like loss of muscle if you’re not doing adequate protein or strength training.”

Ozempic is not covered by all insurance policies for weight loss and can cost nearly $1,000 without it. This has caused many people to search for cheaper alternatives that may not be the safest option.

“We’re seeing a lot on the internet and TV commercials that you can come get your Semaglutide for $300 a month,” Fehl said. “These are compounded, they’re not FDA regulated so these drugs are not the same ingredient that are in the brand name drug from the manufacturers.”

Fehl said despite this, removing accessibility barriers is a priority, and steps towards making these drugs more available are in the works.

“We do really strive for health equity and for access to these medications for all of our patients,” Fehl said. “I do know it’s something that Illinois Medicaid is currently investigating, and I believe they do plan to cover at least one of these injectable medications in the future.”

Fehl said she does not believe the increased use of the drug for weight loss will lead to more body shaming against those who won’t be able to afford it.

“I would hope not. As a society, we’re getting a little bit better about accepting people. I would hope that we focus on health.”

@wgltnews The diabetes drug Ozempic has recently gained popularity due to its weight loss side effect. It’s being hailed as a miracle drug, leaving many patients in Central Illinois wondering if it’s too good to be true. In this edition of our series Sound Health, WGLT talks to an advanced practice nurse with OSF HealthCare's Weight Management Center about how the drugs work and common misconceptions and accessibility barriers. Read or listen to the full story at WGLT.org. #WeightLoss #Ozempic #BloNo #BloomingtonNormal ♬ original sound - WGLT - Bloomington-Normal NPR

Colleen Holden is a student reporting intern. She joined the station in 2024.