Original Article | Published:

Clinical Studies and Practice

US health policy and prescription drug coverage of FDA-approved medications for the treatment of obesity

International Journal of Obesity volume 42, pages 495500 (2018) | Download Citation



Obesity is now the most prevalent chronic disease in the United States, which amounts to an estimated $147 billion in health care spending annually. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted in 2010 included provisions for private and public health insurance plans that expanded coverage for lifestyle/behavior modification and bariatric surgery for the treatment of obesity. Pharmacotherapy, however, has not been included despite their evidence-based efficacy. We set out to investigate the coverage of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for obesity within Medicare, Medicaid and ACA-established marketplace health insurance plans.


We examined coverage for phentermine, diethylpropion, phendimetrazine, Benzphentamine, Lorcaserin, Phentermine/Topiramate (Qysmia), Liraglutide (Saxenda) and Buproprion/Naltrexone (Contrave) among Medicare, Medicaid and marketplace insurance plans in 34 states.


Among 136 marketplace health insurance plans, 11% had some coverage for the specified drugs in only nine states. Medicare policy strictly excludes drug therapy for obesity. Only seven state Medicaid programs have drug coverage.


Obesity requires an integrated approach to combat its public health threat. Broader coverage of pharmacotherapy can make a significant contribution to fighting this complex and chronic disease.

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Author contributions

GG and FCS participated in concept, study design and manuscript preparation. GG collected the data and completed the statistical analysis.

Author information


  1. Department of Surgery-Urology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • G Gomez
  2. Weight Center, Gastrointestinal Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

    • F C Stanford
  3. Department of Pediatrics-Endocrinology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

    • F C Stanford


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Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to F C Stanford.

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