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Whole Foods Alternative To Obama-Care

From the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal:

The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare

By JOHN MACKEY

AUGUST 11, 2009

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money." —Margaret Thatcher

With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people’s money. These deficits are simply not sustainable. They are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation, or they will bankrupt us.

While we clearly need health-care reform, the last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment. Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:

• Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan’s costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

• Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

• Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

• Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

• Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This "right" has never existed in America

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor’s Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million.

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly—they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an "intrinsic right to health care"? The answer is clear—no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.—or in any other country.

Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.

Health-care reform is very important. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible, and that we have the freedom to choose doctors and the health-care services that best suit our own unique set of lifestyle choices. We are all responsible for our own lives and our own health. We should take that responsibility very seriously and use our freedom to make wise lifestyle choices that will protect our health. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

Mr. Mackey is co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc.

In case you don’t know the life story of Mr. Mackey, it is a highly instructive one.

Mr. Mackey was a student of philosophy and religion at the University of Texas. He worked at a vegetarian co-op. He dropped out of college, borrowed $10,000 and raised $35,000 more to start his own health food store, Safer Way, in his garage in 1978.

This became the first vegetarian supermarket in all of Texas. Mackey and his girlfriend had a supermarket on the first floor, a health-food restaurant on the second, and lived on the third story. In two years, Safer Way merged with another natural-foods store and became Whole Foods.

Mr. Mackey admits he used to be a "democratic socialist" in college. But when he began a business and barely made money while being accused by workers of not paying them enough and customers of charging too high prices, he began to take a more capitalistic worldview.

He discovered the works of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Friedman. Mr. Mackey is also an avowed admirer of author Ayn Rand.

As the CEO of Whole Foods, John has been attacked in leftwing and union publications for his supposed anti-union views. Mr. Mackey wrote about unions on his blog:

Unions as they evolved in the United States became very adversarial, untrusting, and opposed to the success and prosperity of the business. This is my major objection to unions today — they harm the flourishing of the business for all the stakeholders. Instead of cooperation between stakeholders, they focus on competition between management and labor. Instead of embracing the notion of the ‘expanding pie’ vision of capitalism — more for everyone, or win-win — they frequently embrace the zero-sum philosophy of win-lose."

Despite such backward views, Whole Foods Market somehow managed to be one of only two Fortune 500 companies listed among the 25 Best Companies to Work For in 2005.

And now here he is, a former uber hippy, who ran a health food store – quoting Margaret Thatcher and opposing Mr. Obama’s takeover of our healthcare system.

John Mackey proves there is hope for all of us.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

23 Responses to “Whole Foods Alternative To Obama-Care”

  1. Liberals Demise

    “Every American adult is responsible for his or her own health”

    No words uttered have had more weight than these.
    Now substitute health for Life, children, way, car, home, ect, ect, ect!!

    • GetBackJack

      This is the best rebuttal I’ve seen. Thank you, Steve.

      This gets emailed and linked as far and wide as I can.

  2. Media_man

    The CEO of Safeway, Steven Burd, had an similar article on healthcare reform via private market initiatives in the WSJ back in June. The link is here:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/.....08603.html

    It’s funny how the Dems never mention any of these possible reforms as a way to reduce costs & maintain choice, quality, access, while maintaining the free & private markets needed to encourage innovation, the only true path to eradicating disease & improving healthcare quality.

    The Dems only goal is a public sector empire guaranteeing them a permanent political majority. The rest of us can go pound sand.

    • BannedbytheTaliban

      The Dems are also saying Medicare won’t be cut and that it is a good model for how the government will manage the Public Option.

      My question, how come everybody on Medicare has TO BUY SUPPLEMENTAL INSURANCE?

    • curvyred

      Because it isn’t really about reducing cost, but about increasing control and dependency.

  3. Paulajay

    Three cheers for Mr. Mackey! But I hope the “liberal elites” don’t get wind of this. At the local Whole Foods, at least half of the cars in the parking lot still sport Obama bumper stickers.

  4. proreason

    Isn’t it strange how experience in the real world can change idealists into capitalists.

    Yet we have thousands of Ivory Tower “intellectuals”, who have never even run a lemonade stand, and who are all at the apex of the Socialist education system, making monumental decisions about our lives.

    • It IS true.. The best efforts of my “hippie” teachers (Whom I loved dearly) to move me along in the common good movement were squashed when I had to collect for my paper route when I was 11. You had to pay for the papers when you delivered, and I developed little sympathy for folks who peeked around their curtains when I went to their door for payment and pretended not to be home. Those who did, had to pay forward if they wanted any papers from then on out.

  5. electionhangovervictim

    Yes, my hat’s off to Mr. Mackey as I wonder why Obama and congress haven’t given his ideas their due consideration. And kudos to WSJ for publishing this.

  6. uber

    Why aren’t we debating proposal like this? why hasn’t anyone talked about choices that make sense, that we can afford?

    • proreason

      Because the government takeover of health care isn’t about improving health care at all.

      It’s about government take-over.

      Approaches like this, and there are dozens of them, that improve health care incrementally are the ENEMY of big government.

      So they must be suppressed at all cost.

  7. neocon mom

    I shared this on my facebook page. It’s hard for libs to quickly dismiss anything associated with organic food retailers, plus it’s well-reasoned and likely to be persuasive.

    I remember John Stossel talking about this plan on ABC some time ago .

  8. proreason

    Don’t watch this Michele Bachman video if you feel really good about Obamy’s Death Care.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CHBvKGmevI

    On the congressional floor, she quotes Presidential advisors, including Rahm Emanuel’s brother who states that doctors take the Hypocratic Oath too seriously. Social Justice should be a more important factor than the patient’s well-being.

    In addition, Dr. Emanuel explainsthat the elderly are not subject to civil rights protections, and hence have no right to equal health care. Nor the handicapped. It’s a cost issue you see. If the money wasted on the old and infirm can be better spent on others, so it should be.

    Fortunately, we have a genius president who, in addition to appointing Dr Emanuel as a health advisor, can use his prodigous experience and wisdom to sift through the factors and make the right decision for our 300 million person country, whether you are white or black, whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you believe white people have abused blacks for centuries or not, whether you are old and greedy or not, whether you deserve to live or not, whether you stupidly disagree with him (the president) or not.

    And that’s why I still feel really really good about the most major disruption in the American way of life since the great World Wars. I want this senseless and endless 3-week debate to end. The country is 230 years old, after all. It’s time we grew up and accepted 1000 page bills for our own good being rammed through Congress in a few hours while our representatives tend to other important business like expanding their fleet of jets.

    We are certainly in good hands. Honest hands. Objective hands, Benevolent hands. The loving hands of Barack Obama, with his cuddly All-american backgroun and broad life perspectives, and his many tender allies, like Barney Franks, Nancy Pelosi, and Rahn Emmanuel.

    Oh, I may disagree about a detail or two. But I know when my time comes, the bureaucrat making the life or death decision for me will be well trained. AND fully knowledgable about the cost and social justice implications of expensive procedures which would be wasted on someone as guilty as me, or at least of the same gender and race as others who are guilty.

    • JohnMG

      This could get to be really entertaining. Imagine those of us who are on the darker side of 60 years old (boomers) who will go before one of the Moron’s end-of-life councilors and be told that we’re too old to receive treatment for prostate cancer or some similar procedure. Just go home, take some aspirin for the pain, and wait for the end to come, for we don’t have the money to spend on you. It’s needed to treat some 32-year-old welfare queen. How do you think this’ll be received by a host of military veterans, when they are told by some bureaucrat that their life isn’t worth prolonging? Here’s what I predict. Said veteran will ask for another counciling session at which time he will produce one of Col. Colt’s wonderful equalizers and announce to the bureaucrat that ‘If my time’s up, so is yours. I’ll see you in hell, but you get to go first’. I mean, what would he have to lose?

    • pdsand

      My favorite part of the day is when I turn on my car radio and they’re joking about a young kid that tried to rob a 82 year old man and it turns out the old man was a WWII Marine and handed him his ass.

  9. NotStuckOnStupid

    Wow, great read! I lived near Austin for many years. Who’d a thunk the Whole Foods guy would be conservative? You’d never know it, wandering through the original Whole Foods market in downtown Austin. A quagmire of elites and hippies.

    • Gosh.. I hope they don’t know.. for his sake…

    • Confucius

      Hey Stuck,

      My thoughts exactly. The Whole Foods in my town is full of hippies and elitest DINKS. The parking lot is filled with–yep, you guesed it–Volvo’s, Prius’s and Land Rovers.

      Personally, I shop there because they have inexpensive tofu, tempeh and sesame oil. (I also enjoy parking my 12-year-old gas-guzziling V8 next to a 9V Prius.)

    • proreason

      Mrs Reason shops at Whole Foods because she gets to spend twice as much for the same products.

      Plus the hippies are very nice to her.

  10. Colonel1961

    God bless him – love it! Wish we had a Whole Foods in my hometown…

  11. David

    I have been pondering a similar proposal. Say we gave some middle ground for a much smaller entitlement program. I envision an optional high deductible emergency plan that covers almost everything after say $10-15K. People can enroll in this plan for $20-30 a month with phased tax credits to cover those who really can’t afford even that much. Then the government makes employer contributions to HSAs tax deductible for employers (or even double deductible). For those unemployed and have no HSA, they should seek help from charity medical services. Donations to these organizations could be double deductible from personal and corporate taxes as well. The benefits of this idea are that everyone would have access to this without restrictions (as long as they file a W4) so no more uninsured except by choice. And also it would spur the economy as HSA money is invested by the banks. I do not like the idea of government doing a job it was never meant to do but this way it removes the concept of control. Obviously there would need to be some companion restrictions that allow employees to choose to have this coverage instead of some block standard rate.
    Anyways, I think this blog has some of the smartest people I know reading it. If you have two cents on this idea I would love to hear it.

  12. BillK

    Perhaps the most instructive quote from above is:

    Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.</b

    Which is precisely the opposite of what ObamaCare will do. It will mandate coverage and at what levels, and you will not even be allowed to offer a private health plan unless it mandates coverage for what the Government feels is appropriate.

    About as far from “lowering costs” as you can get.

  13. wardmama4

    The point here (startling as it is) is that in America a dream can become a vision which can then become a reality and everyone (owner, store employees and customers) can profit.

    That is #1 lie of the Obama Administration that many have bought – _________(fill in the blank, CEOs, Insurance, Big Pharma etc) are greedy, evil, etc – except that it is essentially a barter, a deal – you give them money and you get a product/service. . .Government takes our money – at ever increasing rates – and it is appearing that those who do little or nothing are getting a bigger return than those who provide the most money – and we certainly get a shoddy product/service – and in the mean time the government is attempting to squash all alternatives.

    I was miffed as Whole Foods (locally) has No Carry Signs – I thought it was a touchy-feelly hippie thing – and then realized it was due to the alcohol in the stores – now that I’ve read this – Whole Foods is back as one of my stores.

    I sent many of his ideas to my D (as in dumb) ‘representative’ – he responded with the exact same response he sent me – before my ideas as to solutions – other than a government takeover of healthcare – so I know how he is going to vote – despite the fact that after his first ‘town hall’ meeting – he has canceled and/or turned them into invite only – to dismiss the majority of his constituents that are against the ‘healthcare reform’.

    So much for being a true representative of his constituents.


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