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Mounjaro is $1000 a month without coupons; the user fears gaining weight

Tara Rothenhoefer started taking tyrzepatide as part of a weight loss clinical trial and lost 176 pounds on the drug. She now worries about losing access to the drug when a coupon expires in June.
Courtesy of Tara Rothenhoefer

  • Tirzepatide has the potential to be a new weight-loss treatment, but it could be costly for patients.
  • One woman said the drug helped her lose 176 pounds and she fears she will regain it if she can’t afford it.
  • A combination of stigma and lack of insurance coverage can make it difficult for people to access diet drugs.

A new drug has the potential to be even more effective for weight loss than currently trending drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy if patients can access them.

Tirzepatide, a weekly injection currently sold under the brand name Mounjaro, is being studied for itsdramatic effects on appetite and blood sugar control, helping patients lose up to 20 percent of their body weight, on average, in clinical trials.

One of the patients in the first clinical trial, a 47-year-old woman named Tara Rothenhoefer, told Insider she lost a total of 176 pounds on tyrzepatide and that the drug “changed her life.”

To keep it off, she needs to keep taking the medication. But the discount she made available to her will soon expire, forcing her to face an out-of-pocket cost of more than $1,000 a month, or try to maintain her weight without the drug.

“I’m scared shitless. I’d like to think I’ll be able to maintain those habits, but my experience tells me otherwise,” Rothenhoefer said.

Tirzepatide affects hormones that control appetite and may be more effective than Ozempic

Tirzepatide helps with weight loss because it mimics an appetite-reducing hormone called GLP-1. It’s similar to another popular drug called semaglutide (sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic), which also acts on GLP-1 to help people eat less.

Unlike semaglutide, tirzepatide also acts on another insulin-related hormone called GIP. The dual effects may be even more effective at reducing appetite, with some evidence suggesting that tirzepatide causes greater weight loss than semaglutide.

Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company that makes tirzepatide, is going through the process of getting FDA approval to market the weight-loss drug. It is currently available as a treatment for diabetes, but doctors can now prescribe it for weight loss as well if they think it will help patients.

A clinical trial patient said tyrzepatide helped her maintain healthy habits during the trial, but she struggled without it

Rothenhoefer joined the tirzepatide weight loss clinical trial in 2020 and lost about 80 pounds in the first six months. She said the drug’s main benefit is reducing “food noise,” a persistent physical and emotional preoccupation with eating.

By the end of the trial, Rothenhoefer was down from 342 pounds to 210, but she lost access to the drug, even though she still wanted to lose more weight.

Despite maintaining the same habits like eating smaller portions, more vegetables and fewer treats, she noticed the scale creeping up again when she stopped taking tirzepatide.

“I never got out of the mindset of having to work for it. I kept telling myself I wanted to eat like normal people eat, but it was a struggle,” she said. “When you’re off drugs, the food noise and hunger come back.”

Before the trial, Rothenhoefer had been on a yo-yo diet since age 13, and now she felt like she was back in that vicious cycle, gaining back 18 pounds in her year off the drug.

Eventually she was able to get a prescription for Mounjaro through an online doctor and the weight started to drop again. Although she is now approaching her goal weight and hopes to maintain it, she fears it will be an uphill battle if she loses access to tyrzepatide.

“I never see myself being the person I was three years ago, but I know it will be a daily struggle for the rest of my life,” Rothenhoefer said.

Rothenhoefer said healthier habits like eating smaller portions and choosing healthier foods helped her lose weight, but it’s hard to maintain them without taking tirzepatide to reduce the “food noise.”
Courtesy of Tara Rothenhoefer

The ongoing stigma towards weight, combined with a lack of insurance coverage, has made patients desperate for medication

Rothenhoefer said its current supply of tyrzepatide is affordable thanks to a manufacturer coupon that drops the price to $25, down from its quoted cost of $1,000 or more per month. But that coupon expires in June.

Most insurance plans don’t cover weight-loss drugs and those that require extensive documentation, obesity medicine specialist and endocrinologist Dr. Scott Isaacs previously told Insider.

“It’s a huge burden to prove that patients are fit for the drug,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns. We’re doing our best and there’s hope that things will change. I’m very honest with patients, but June worries me.”

Rothenhoefer said the prospect of missing the drug is a hot topic in online forums of people taking the drug, and he routinely sees his peers “freaking out” at being cut off.

“It can get very obsessive, people think ‘I need this, what if I can’t get it’ and sell things or get a second job just to try and afford it,” she said.

For Rothenhoefer, the plan was never to take tyrzepatide long-term (“I don’t even like taking a Tylenol,” she said), but her future without it is still uncertain.

Until then, buy time by ordering the maximum amount available, a four-week supply every three weeks, and stockpiling the extras in the fridge.

“If my electricity went out right now, the first thing I’d do is run and get ice in a cooler,” she said.

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