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It’s been two-and-a-half months since Massachusetts officials fessed up to using $2.5 billion in federal money to fund jobless benefits during the pandemic — benefits that should have been paid by the state.
I’ve checked in periodically with the state and feds, only to be told that they’re still working out what to do about the massive mix-up, which occurred in 2020 under Charlie Baker’s administration.
”Our goal remains focused on reaching a resolution with [the US Department of Labor] that minimizes impact to the Commonwealth, especially Massachusetts employers,” Matthew Kitsos, a spokesman for state Labor Secretary Lauren Jones, said in an e-mail.
The state, which faces a potential budget gap of nearly $180 million, has a lot riding on the outcome. More so employers.
That’s because employers finance state unemployment benefits through payroll taxes. And they’re already deeply displeased about paying extra to cover interest payments on $2.7 billion of bonds sold by the state last year to repay federal loans needed during the pandemic and beef up the unemployment insurance trust fund.
The huge amount of money involved makes “minimizing the impact to the Commonwealth” complicated, a former US Labor Department official told me. So does the political situation in Washington.
Biden administration labor appointees are inclined to find a way to cut true blue Massachusetts a break, but the department is moving cautiously amid scrutiny from congressional Republicans for spending and oversight issues.
The feds don’t expect a resolution until October at the earliest, a person with knowledge of the matter told me.
”October is the usual month to determine the [employer unemployment tax] rates for the following year, and for the feds to certify state borrowing and programs,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “I would think some sort of resolution should come by then, but who knows?”
Last week was a big one for Wegovy, the weight-loss drug that has made its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, the world’s third most valuable pharma stock.
The Danish company released results of a study that showed Wegovy lowered the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems by 20 percent among overweight people with a history of heart disease.
“Experts said the results of the trial demonstrate that a new crop of drugs commonly used for weight loss, such as Wegovy, can provide important health benefits, not just cosmetic ones,” The Washington Post reported. The study could boost demand and bolster the case for insurance coverage for the medication, the Post said.
Sales of Wegovy soared 537 percent to $1.1 billion in the second quarter.
The problem is that demand for Wegovy — a version of Ozempic, a diabetes treatment that is also used for weight loss — is already so strong that Novo Nordisk can’t produce enough. Eli Lilly is also straining to meet demand for Mounjaro, another diabetes drug that is also used for weight loss, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In April I wrote about the diet-drug craze and my experience taking Saxenda, an older Novo Nordisk treatment. At the time I had stalled out after getting halfway to my goal of losing 30 pounds.
But a few weeks later I was put on Wegovy, and I’m now within a pound of my target and debating whether to stop taking the drug because (TMI warning) it gives me diarrhea and excessive gas, and often makes me nauseated (which is, I admit, an effective appetite killer).
While Wegovy is supposed to be taken indefinitely, there’s not much research on the long-term risks. And there are limited data on what happens if you stop taking it, though a 2021 study found that people regained two-thirds of the weight they lost with Wegovy.
So there’s my dilemma: Do I drop Wegovy at the risk of gaining back the weight? Or do I keep going and hope the side effects dissipate?