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The Seattle Times reports that Costco is making a healthcare play, offering its customers/members access to online primary care visits for $29, and mental health visits for $79.

The services are being offered through the online health marketplace Sesame, which also will offer Costco members 10 percent off other health services.  The Times says that on the Sesame platform, "clinicians set their prices and patients pay them directly, not through insurance … Sesame is aimed at people without health coverage or those with high deductibles who have to pay out of pocket. The marketplace approach distinguishes Sesame from many telehealth services, where doctors’ fees are set by the platform or negotiated with insurers."

The Times writes that "the companies didn’t disclose financial terms, but the agreement benefits both sides. Issaquah-based Costco, which declined an interview request, will add to members’ benefits. And Sesame, a New York-based startup that’s backed by Alphabet’s venture unit, gets its marketplace in front of a vast pool of potential customers; Costco has about 125 million cardholders worldwide and generates roughly 70% of sales in the United States."

And, some context from the Times:

"Retailers increasingly want to tap into the $4.3 trillion U.S. health care market to broaden their revenue and deepen relationships with customers. Walmart is opening store-based clinics and exploring buying a stake in primary-care chain ChenMed … Amazon purchased One Medical for $3.5 billion. Drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens are leaning further into care delivery, and retailers as diverse as Kroger and Best Buy have health care divisions."

KC's View:

The notion that traditional retailers can provide their customers with effective access to healthcare is no longer radical.  But I must admit that I remain skeptical - I wonder if the retailers that will be most successful will be the ones that serve as portals to other, existing systems with which they have partnerships, as opposed to trying to reinvent the healthcare wheel on their own.

I admire the audacity and aspiration of the latter approach, and certainly there are elements of the healthcare experience that need to be reinvented.  But I am unconvinced that retailer priorities always going to be in line with patient needs, and think that there could be disconnects that would not be good for people's health.

Mark me down as unconvinced.