scorecardA woman lost 176 pounds taking Ozempic competitor Mounjaro. She's petrified of putting the weight back on when the price goes up to $1,000 a month.
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A woman lost 176 pounds taking Ozempic competitor Mounjaro. She's petrified of putting the weight back on when the price goes up to $1,000 a month.

Gabby Landsverk   

A woman lost 176 pounds taking Ozempic competitor Mounjaro. She's petrified of putting the weight back on when the price goes up to $1,000 a month.
LifeScience4 min read
  • Tirzepatide has the potential to be a hot new weight loss treatment — but could be costly for patients.
  • One woman said the drug helped her lose 176 pounds, and she fears regaining if she can't afford it.

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

Tirzepatide, a once-weekly injection currently sold under the brand name Mounjaro, is being studied for its dramatic 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 that she lost a total of 176 pounds on tirzepatide and the medication "changed her life."

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

"I'm scared to death. I would like to think I'll be able to maintain those habits, but my experience tells me otherwise," Rothenhoefer said.

Tirzepatide acts on 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 medication called semaglutide (sold under 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 — some evidence suggests tirzepatide causes greater weight loss than semaglutide.

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

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

Rothenhoefer signed on to the clinical weight loss trial for tirzepatide in 2020, and lost about 80 pounds in the first six months. She said the main benefit of the medication is reducing "food noise," a persistent physical and emotional preoccupation with eating.

By the end of the trial, Rothenhoefer had dropped from 342 pounds to 210, but lost access to the drug, although she still wanted to lose more weight.

Despite keeping the same habits such as eating smaller portions, more veggies, and fewer treats, she noticed the scale creeping back up when she stopped taking tirzepatide.

"I never got out of the mindset of having to work for this. I kept telling myself I wanted to eat how normal people ate, but it was a struggle," she said. "When you're off the drug, the food noise and hunger comes back."

Prior to the trial, Rothenhoefer had been yo-yo dieting since age 13, and now felt like she was back in that vicious cycle, regaining 18 pounds in her year off of the medication.

She was finally able to obtain a prescription for Mounjaro through an online prescriber, and the weight started coming off again. While she's now nearing her goal weight, and hopes to maintain there, she worries that it will be an uphill battle if she loses access to tirzepatide.

"I don't ever see myself being the person I was three years ago but I know it's going to be an everyday struggle for the rest of my life," Rothenhoefer said.

Ongoing stigma toward weight, combined with lack of insurance coverage, have made patients desperate to get medication

Rothenhoefer said her current supply of tirzepatide is affordable thanks to a manufacturer's coupon that reduces the price to $25, down from the listed cost of $1,000 or more monthly. But that coupon expires in June.

A majority of insurance plans don't cover weight-loss medications, and those that do require extensive paperwork, obesity medicine specialist and endocrinologist Dr. Scott Isaacs previously told Insider.

"It's a huge burden to prove patients qualify for the drug," he said. "There's a lot of unknowns. We do our best, and there's hope things will change. I'm very up front with patients, but I do worry come June."

Rothenhoefer said the prospect of losing the medication is a hot topic in online forums of people taking the drug, and she routinely sees her peers "freaking out" about being cut off.

"It can become very obsessive, people thinking 'I need this, what happens if I can't get it" and selling stuff or getting a second job just to try to afford it," she said.

For Rothenhoefer, the plan was never to take tirzepatide long term ("I don't even like to take a Tylenol," she said), but her future without it is still uncertain.

Until then, she's buying time by ordering the maximum amount available to her, 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 sprint to get ice in a cooler," she said.