Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Demand Drug Companies Cut Price of Ozempic and Other New Weight Loss Drugs

In a dual-bylined editorial, President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders called on the makers of the uber-popular new generation of weight loss drugs to make them cheaper.

The former rivals demanded in their USA Today op-ed that Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, the manufacturers of the expensive diabetes and obesity injectables Ozempic and Mounjaro respectively, lower the prices of these game-changing drugs and "stop ripping off the American people."

As the duo points out, American patients prescribed Novo's landmark drug Ozempic and its sister weight-loss drug Wegovy are charged up to six times more than in countries with cheaper healthcare like Canada, Germany, and Denmark, a state of play which the politicians rightfully decry as "unacceptable." The same goes for Lilly's Mounjaro, which runs about $1,100 per month and which, like Novo's drugs, is often not covered by insurance.

While this rare joint Biden and Sanders statement certainly makes a salient argument, the fact remains that this prescription pricing inequity is not only a hallmark of the American healthcare system, but that the pair — and the president in particular — could do a lot more than publish a righteous editorial to make these drugs more affordable.

As the powerful pair points out, the Biden administration enacted the Inflation Reduction Act, a 2022 law that allowed for the first time Medicare to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, which led to lowered costs of Lilly-manufactured insulin. Similarly, the federal government earlier this year negotiated down the cost of inhalers from more than $600 per unit to just $35.

While those industry deals were indeed a net positive for consumers of those lifesaving drugs, there's much bolder action the president could take — and one in particular that we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic that changed its trajectory.

As you'll likely recall, the Food and Drug Administration in late 2020 granted emergency use authorizations for experimental mRNA COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and the then-unknown German firm Moderna, which allowed the government to facilitate their manufacturing. The agency was able to do so because COVID had been declared a national public health emergency and those vaccines were considered medical countermeasures to it.

While emergency use authorizations have historically been used in the case of biohazards and pandemics, declaring pediatric obesity in particular as a national emergency has been floated in the wake of this generation of weight loss drugs as a means to broaden manufacturing of the medications.

As always, obesity is a fraught subject and the concept of the federal government declaring it an "emergency" would likely result in understandable backlash. Nevertheless, if the president and his allies were serious about putting Big Pharma's feet to the fire on drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro, they have the tools to do so.

Or then again, they could nationalize healthcare, too.

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