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‘Outrageous’: Bernie Sanders has Ozempic demands after study says it costs just $5 per month to manufacture

Senator Bernie Sanders wants to meet next week with Novo Nordisk A/S’s top executive about lowering the price of its blockbuster drug Ozempic, fueling controversy over the costs of GLP-1 drugs for diabetes and obesity.

The Vermont independent said he’s considering hearings on the cost of GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic, but first wants to personally discuss their prices with Novo Chief Executive Officer Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen. 

“We are going to try to make it happen next week,” said Sanders, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Ozempic lists in the US for $968.52 for a month’s supply of weekly injections.

A Novo spokesperson couldn’t say whether its CEO would meet with Sanders. In a statement, the company said that “affordability challenges are real” for drugs and that it offers options to help US patients pay for medications. The company has said it’s spending many billions of dollars to increase the supply of drugs like Ozempic.

‘Totally Absurd’

Sanders was responding to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open that found a month’s supply of Ozempic could be profitably made for less than $5. Sanders called the price of Ozempic “totally absurd” and “outrageous” and said it should be sharply lowered to what Novo sells the drug for in Canada or Europe.  

“Millions of Americans are going to need this product” but won’t be able to afford it, he said in the interview. Ozempic “is also going to have a very, very deleterious impact on the budgets of Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance.”

Sanders also said he currently does not support legislation that would broadly require Medicare, the US health program for seniors and disabled people, to cover related obesity drugs such as Novo’s Wegovy, which costs even more than Ozempic. 

“Not at this price,” he said. Covering obesity drugs “would raise Medicare premiums very, very substantially.”

Sanders said he also hoped to reach an agreement to lower out-of-pocket costs for drugs like Ozempic. Earlier this month, several drug companies agreed to cap patients’ costs for asthma inhalers after a Senate HELP committee probe.

State health plans and Medicaid offices are seeing growing costs for Ozempic and its sister drug Wegovy for obesity, raising questions about whether the increases are sustainable. In January, North Carolina said it would cut off coverage of anti-obesity medicines for state employees, citing soaring costs and lack of agreement on pricing from drugmakers. 

Wegovy sells for about $1,349 a month. Medicare doesn’t currently cover drugs for weight loss, but some lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would require the program to pay for them.

In addition to treating obesity, Wegovy was recently approved for reducing cardiovascular risk in heart disease patients who also have obesity. Several Medicare managed plans said Thursday that they will cover it for this use.

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