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Cumberland County sees uptick in spending on weight-loss drugs for employees

Question comes weeks after state's decision to remove health insurance coverage for weight-loss medications


Bittersweet tears marked the end of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners’ agenda session Thursday afternoon as staff celebrated Finance Director Vicki Evans, who is retiring from the county after almost a decade of service.

“I found Vicki as a wonderful resource for financial and accounting things,” said County Manager Clarence Grier. 

Evans grew emotional as Chairman Glenn Adams praised her for her dedication to the county, noting he joined the board a few months after her arrival.

“We’ve grown together,” Adams said of Evans. “She’s taken care of this county, and I think that’s why, if you look at our finances and portfolio, we are probably as strong as any county in the state of North Carolina, and that’s not by chance. It’s because of the work and service that you did, so thank you. We’re going to miss you so much.” 

Commissioners Jeannette Council, Jimmy Keefe and Marshall Faircloth were not present at Thursday’s meeting. Before saying their goodbyes to Evans, the board tackled the following items: 

Weight-loss drugs for employees

Weeks after the state opted to remove coverage of a class of drugs — referred to as GLP-1 medications — for employees on its health insurance when prescribed “for the purpose of weight loss”, Cumberland County is considering its next steps. USI Insurance Services, the county’s insurance brokerage and consulting firm, pointed to an increase in employee use of the drugs over the past year as a potential area of concern. 

Kevin Quinn, a broker with USI, told the board the medications represented 20% of pharmacy expenses for the first six months of the county’s 2023-24 health care coverage, up from 11% for the entire 2022-23 coverage cycle. 

“The good news is [the medications] do help improve conditions, but the bad news is they cost more money,” Quinn said. “We want to make sure you’re well-informed of what’s going on with regards to that.” 

When Adams asked if the county might consider following in the state’s footsteps regarding insurance coverage of the drugs, Quinn said they would likely recommend alternative options. 

“We think that that’s aggressive,” Quinn said. “We want to watch it very closely, and we have some strategic ideas on how maybe to combat that in the very near future.” 

According to data presented by USI, from July 1, 2023, to Nov. 30, 2023, the county spent at least $693,001 on Wegovy prescriptions for 563 employees and $354,627 on Ozempic prescriptions for 377 employees. 

Drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, used to treat those with diabetes and weight-related conditions, respectively, work by providing glucagon-like peptide-1. The ingredient imitates glucagon peptide-1, a natural hormone that signals to the brain when the body is full, NPR reported last year.

The county will discuss strategies to address the issue in March when USI returns with further data, Quinn said.

In other business:

  • The board unanimously agreed to move forward with a vote on an opioid recovery center as part of the consent agenda at its Feb. 19 meeting. 
  • The board unanimously agreed to place approval of $10 million in ARPA funding for the Gray’s Creek water and sewer district on the consent agenda for Feb. 19.
  • The board unanimously approved a temporary license to allow the owner of the Fayetteville Steel distribution center access to a county-owned plot so he can expand his business. The board also approved the future sale of the plot.
  • The board unanimously agreed to place approval of the allocation of $2,800,000 in ARPA funding for the Community Access to Broadband project on the consent agenda for its Feb. 19 meeting.

Reporter Lexi Solomon can be reached at lsolomon@cityviewc.com or 910-423-6500.

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Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, weight loss, Ozempic, Wegovy, health insurance, opioids