Costco, known for cheap gas and cost-saving bulk buys, is the latest major retailer to tap into the $4.3 trillion U.S. health care market.
Partnering with Google-backed startup Sesame Health, Costco members now have access to a variety of low-cost health care options — like $29 telehealth checkups, $79 virtual therapy sessions and $72 lab and panel consultations.
In a statement, Sesame CEO David Goldhill said "When it comes to health care, Sesame also delivers high quality and great value — and a low price that will be appreciated by Costco members when it comes to their own care."
Aaron Katz is a principal lecturer emeritus at the University of Washington who specializes in public health and health care markets.
He’s been watching as big retailers like Amazon and Walmart get into telehealth and even some in-person primary health care services.
"For some uninsured people who have some resources, $29 could be beneficial to figuring out if what they have is bronchitis or the flu," said Katz.
He believes there are several caveats that come along with this trend — one being losing on building a relationship with one doctor
"Research tells us about what people need to do to get healthy — it’s consistency of care. With these kinds of plans, there is no consistency of care, this is episodic care," said Katz.
Another concern he has is the long-term impact of these new health care offerings on the traditional medical system — when funds from lower-cost, frequent services like doctor’s appointments are diverted away, it can make other health care more expensive.
"In a way it can exacerbate the problems of the system because, you know, it siphons off the easy revenue from other health care systems that need that revenue in order to provide us access to everything else. I've got two daughters that might take advantage of it," he said.
On the other hand, Costco member Julia Creech says that while she and her husband have good insurance, her adult children do not, and may want to take advantage of the new offerings from Costco.
"If anything happened to them it would be so expensive. So, if this is an option they can afford, it’s definitely worth looking into," said Creech.
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