Costco and its health care partner Sesame are offering members access to discounted weight loss management, including the potential to be prescribed popular weight loss drugs Ozempic or Wegovy. For $179 every three months, Costco members can consult with health care partner Sesame on lifestyle and nutrition changes — and, if needed, be prescribed weight loss drugs.

The cost of the medication — which can be much more than $1,000 a month for Ozempic or Wegovy — is not included in the discounted weight loss program. And customers who are using those drugs already have long complained that they’re hard to find. Semaglutide, which is a key component, is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of drugs currently in shortage, though Novo Nordisk, which makes both Wegovy and Ozempic, has said it’s working hard to boost production.

Sesame’s website says that without insurance, Wegovy and Ozempic can cost as much as $1,600 a month.

So what’s included in the renewable $179 weight loss program?

According to a news release from Sesame, that buys Costco members three months of “low pricing on high-quality individualized clinical consultations,” as well as:

  • Ability to select which clinician they want to consult by video.
  • An initial live video consultation with that person.
  • Ability to message that clinician outside of scheduled appointments.
  • A nutrition guide and recommendations.
  • Some may be “guided to an individualized, clinically-appropriate treatment program,” per Sesame.

According to the news release, “Sesame clinicians will begin by collecting a detailed medical history from each patient, and help patients with appropriate diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications. When clinically appropriate, the clinician may pair these interventions with medications, subject to their availability.”

Wegovy and Ozempic: Is the weight-loss ‘miracle’ real and what are the barriers?

Sesame, a virtual health clinic, doesn’t accept insurance, though Costco’s pharmacy does, which may help some members with the cost of medication if it’s prescribed. Sesame and Costco began teaming up last September to provide Costco members virtual primary care (starts at $29 a consult for members), health checkups (with standard lab work, $72) and virtual mental health therapy ($79), the release said.

Sesame said the expansion into weight loss came when Costco and Sesame realized about 20% of customer queries were about finding help losing weight.

Weight loss ‘miracles’?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates close to three-fourths of Americans are overweight. It estimates the annual medical cost of obesity in the United States hovers around $173 billion annually. An adult who is obese has medical costs roughly $2,000 more each year than do people of healthy weight.

As Deseret News reported last year, research suggests patients lose more weight on Ozempic and Wegovy than on other weight loss drugs. But reports abound that when one tries to go off the drugs, the weight rebounds. Even a year ago, the drugs were in short supply.

Per that article, “The two medications are approved for different people — they use different doses of the lab-created hormone semaglutide, delivered by costly weekly injections. Wegovy is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for chronic weight management in those who are considerably overweight who have related medical conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Ozempic is prescribed to manage Type 2 diabetes — the weight loss side effect a happy-accident discovery.”

Science Alert reported on clinical trials showing Wegovy patients lost about 15% of their body weight in about 16 months, considerably more than patients on other types of weight loss drugs. The hormone semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that mimics a satiety hormone, so people feel like they’re full sooner and eat less.

Getting hold of the celebrity-touted weight loss drugs isn’t currently as simple as having a prescription and a lot of money. As Quartz reported, “Sales of a new class of weight-loss drugs known as GLP-1s have transformed Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk into the most valuable pharmaceutical companies in the world.”

The article said Eli Lilly, maker of Zepbound, is the world’s ninth-largest company based on its $777 billion market capitalization. But demand has driven shortages there, too. Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk has been “limiting starter doses of Wegovy to ensure there’s enough supply for patients already on the drug,” per Quartz. “But the problem is compounding: Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said in March that the gap between demand for weight-loss drugs and the supply is significant enough to take years to close.”

Per CNN, “U.S. health care providers wrote more than nine million prescriptions for Wegovy and other injectable drugs used for weight loss during the last three months of 2022 alone. JPMorgan researchers estimate that 30 million people may be taking GLP-1 drugs by 2030, or around 9% of the US population.”