WASHINGTON (AP) — Shares of Vivus Inc. and similar developers of prescription weight loss drugs rose Wednesday after health insurer Aetna said it would cover the medications for certain patients.
Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET) said in a policy update Tuesday that it would cover Vivus’ Qsymia and Arena Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s Bleviq, as “medically necessary” obesity treatments for patients whose policies don’t exclude such drugs. Aetna is the third-largest commercial health insurer based on enrollment in the U.S.
Aetna’s move could pressure other large insurers to make similar decisions, said Cowen and Co. analyst Simos Simeonidis. The decisions could expand the market for the drugs. Still, he said it’s unclear exactly how many patients could receive the drugs under the new policy.
With U.S. obesity rates nearing 35 percent of the adult population, many doctors have called for new pharmaceutical treatments for weight loss. In the past year the FDA has demonstrated a new willingness to approve such drugs, though some insurers are still deciding whether to cover the new products.