Health Care Reform - Full Article

By John Mackey, August 14, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by John Mackey

As you are probably aware, I wrote an Op/Ed piece that was published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week on health care reform, one of the biggest and most emotional issues facing our country. I was asked to write an Op/Ed piece and I gave my personal opinions. While I am in favor of health care reform, Whole Foods Market as a company has no official position on the issue.


In answer to President Obama's invitation to all Americans to put forward constructive ideas for reforming our health care system, I wrote this Op/Ed piece called simply "Health Care Reform." An editor at the Journal rewrote the headline to call it "Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare," which led to antagonistic feelings by many. That was not my intention - in fact, I do not mention the President at all in this piece.


I fully realize that there are many opinions on the healthcare debate, including inside my own company. As we, as a nation, continue to discuss this, I am hopeful that both sides can do so in a civil manner that will lead to positive change for all concerned. You are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section below. (Just remember our comment guidelines prohibit vulgarity and personal attacks.)


Here is the original unedited version that I submitted.


Health Care Reform


"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 and 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 moves us much closer to a complete governmental takeover of our health care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the exact opposite direction-toward less governmental control and more individual empowerment. Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:


1. Remove the legal obstacles which slow the creation of high deductible health insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts. The combination of high deductible health insurance and Health Savings Accounts 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, and provides up to $1,800 per year in additional health care dollars through deposits into their own 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 team member satisfaction.


2. Change the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have exactly the same tax benefits. Right now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible for employers but private health insurance is not. This is unfair.


3. 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 health insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable everywhere.


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


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


6. Make health care costs transparent so that consumers will understand what health care treatments cost. How many people know what their last doctor's visit cost? What other goods or services do we as consumers buy without knowing how much they will cost us? We need a system where people can compare and contrast costs and services.


7. Enact Medicare reform: we need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and move towards greater patient empowerment and responsibility.


8. Permit individuals to make voluntary tax deductible donations on their IRS tax forms to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or any other government program.


Many promoters of health care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care-to universal and equal access to doctors, medicines, and hospitals. While all of us can empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have any more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have an intrinsic right to food, clothing, owning their own homes, a car or a personal computer? Health care is a service which we all need at some point in our lives, but just like food, clothing, and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually-beneficial market exchanges rather than through government mandates. A careful reading of both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter, because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America.


Even in countries such as Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by governmental bureaucrats what health care treatments and medicines 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 and expensive treatments. Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million citizens. At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund on their behalf. Our Canadian and British team members express their benefit preferences very clearly-they want supplemental health care more than additional paid time off, larger donations to their retirement plans, or greater food discounts; they want 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 to spend 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 governmental spending and control, what we need to do is address the root causes of disease and poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for their own health. Unfortunately many of our health care problems are self-inflicted with over 2/3 of Americans now overweight and 1/3 obese. Most of the diseases which are both killing us and making health care so expensive-heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, which account for about 70% of all health care spending, are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal or no alcohol consumption, and other healthy lifestyle choices.

American Diet

Over the past two decades, breakthrough scientific research by Colin Campbell, as documented in his book The China Study, and clinical medical experiences by many doctors including Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman, and Neal Barnard have shown that a diet consisting of whole foods which are plant-based, nutrient dense, and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most of the degenerative diseases that are killing us, and becoming more and more expensive to treat through drugs and surgery. We should be able to live healthy and largely disease free lives until we are well into our 90's and even past 100 years of age.


Health care reform in America is very important. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible and that we have the freedom to choose our own doctors and the health care services that best suit our own unique set of lifestyle choices. We are 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 personal lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

Category: health care reform




Ken says ...
<p>Well said. I for one will be shopping more at Whole Foods. It is a bit out of my way, but I support those who are willing to take a stand for what is sensible and right. Thanks you John.</p>
08/14/2009 4:25:00 PM CDT
doug neiford says ...
<p>Keep up to good work. I am a customer and agree with your point-of-view.</p>
08/14/2009 4:30:00 PM CDT
Ray says ...
<p>I read your WSJ article, and also read that some folks are now boycotting the store. Fools. All you did was give some excellent alternatives to socialized health care. You expressed an informed opinion, which is still legal. Your arguments were reasonable and valid. I support your right to free speech and I also agree with your sentiments. Don't let the naive naysayers bother you. Keep up the good work!</p>
08/14/2009 4:30:00 PM CDT
Eddie says ...
<p>Amen! God Bless you Mr. Mackey. You are a true Patriot. Please run for office!</p>
08/14/2009 4:31:00 PM CDT
Sean says ...
<p>Bravo Mr. Mackey. I applaud your willingness to submit ideas on health reform. Individual responsibility and fairness under law are the path to true health reform.</p>
08/14/2009 4:38:00 PM CDT
Jaco says ...
<p>I would consider suing WSJ if they caused damage to your companies reputation by twisting your words.</p>
08/14/2009 4:38:00 PM CDT
Tina Higginbotham says ...
<p>Thank you for being a voice of reason! I just hope logic like yours will prevail in the end.</p>
08/14/2009 4:39:00 PM CDT
Houser says ...
<p>Thank you John for adding something meaningful to the health care debate. And unlike most, you speak from a position of actually having tried something different, and seeing how well it can work. I am inspired by your thoughts, and I will look at implementing something very similar in my own small business.</p> <p>As for the goverment plan, why can't people realize this simple old truth:</p> <p>It is never possible for the government to GIVE you ANYTHING that it did not first TAKE from someone else. Period.</p> <p>And as an economic model, that is always a downhill slide. Look how horribly medicare is going into the red and trying to bankrupt our nation.</p> <p>Government cannot create wealth. Entrepreneurs and private companies create wealth. Why do we villainize that? We should hold them up among our greatest heroes- those who support an economy that allows us to pull civilization out of the dirt and move humanity forward! They aren't perfect, nobody is. But as long as we have a strong economy we can keep working on moving forward. Without that, all hope for the future fails.</p> <p>Of course there are things we can and should do to improve health care for all Americans. But the answer is not socialism, or a massive expansion of government if you are allergic to that word.</p> <p>In any case, thank you again John.</p> <p>S. Houser</p>
08/14/2009 4:39:00 PM CDT
Dave says ...
<p>Excellent article. Thank you for taking on the notion of entitlement. I hear the words 'healthcare you deserve' constantly and it makes me cringe.</p>
08/14/2009 4:42:00 PM CDT
Greg Sullivan says ...
<p>It's easy for rich people to decry health care reform as 'socialist' ' you have health care.</p> <p>It's also easy to target 'ruinous lawsuits'. Those lawsuits are the reason our food supply is safe. We pay for it one way or antoher ' in this society we have collectively chosen to pay for ensuring the safety of our healthcare system by requiring providers to take responsibility for the care they provide. In the same way we require grocers to take responsibility for the safety of our food supply. Your free market approach is not free ' more people will die if food is unsafe or healthcare provided without regard for liability. Again, we've chosen to pay for this by making it expensive to (even accidentally) kill people with unsafe food or incompetent healthcare.</p> <p>Your op/ed piece restates the morally bankrupt stance of those who are most fortunate and don't want thier piece of the pie to be smaller. It is repugnant to me, and if you think the personal opinion of a CEO doesn't reflect on the corporation then you are naive.</p>
08/14/2009 4:44:00 PM CDT
Cindy Lou says ...
<p>Dear Mr Mackey<br> I have been a loyal Whole Foods shopper for more than 10 years. I read your article in the Wall Street Journal and can assure you Whole Foods will receive no further business from me or my family.</p> <p>I love your store but not more than I love my country. You are out of touch with the people who made your store popular and your article proves this point.</p> <p>Your article illustrates your inner believes '¦ you don't care about people, you care about large insurance companies and protecting incompetent doctors. </p> <p>I will no longer be shopping at your store and will be sharing your article on my blog with syndications to Facebook and Twitter in hopes others will join me. You understand money and I hope you also understand that your comments will lead to less money for you and your investors.</p> <p>Cindy Lou Ferris</p>
08/14/2009 4:46:00 PM CDT
Bob Dobolina says ...
<p>Tort reform, interstate commerce so Big Insurance can nationalize their local monopolies. You may as well have thrown in ending the 'death tax' as well. These are all standard Republican talking points. You attitude'that the sick have no intrinsic right to health care'is both tight-fisted and self-serving. You've got yours so what do you care, right? If we're arrested and we can't afford an attorney, the state provides one. If we're dying and we can't afford doctor, as far as you're concerned, tough luck.</p> <p>Nice try, but even with the new headline, it's the same vile, soulless garbage. You've lost my business.</p>
08/14/2009 4:48:00 PM CDT
DeWitt Gravink says ...
<p>Too little, too late.<br> The Whole Foods Board of Directors needs to fire you and move on.</p>
08/14/2009 4:49:00 PM CDT
Henry says ...
<p>Dear Mr John Mackey,<br> Thank you for being against the Health Care (Insurance) Bill the present administration is trying to force on us.<br> It needs to be thourougly analysed and modified before any being voted on, as the majority of American citizens think.<br> The Health Care we have today is the best in the world, what needs to be done is improve it, eliminating waste.<br> Thank you again for your stand.</p>
08/14/2009 4:50:00 PM CDT
Geoffrey Douglas says ...
<p>I am a big new fan of Whole Foods. Thank you Mr. Mackey for standing up for what is right. I will shop there and recommend your stores to my friends as much as possible.</p> <p>Obama's plans are not the 'change' most people envisioned. </p> <p>Mr. Mackey will undoubtedly get a lot of heat for his stance, which is indicative of his courage. You are a great American sir and I salute you.</p> <p>Geoff Douglas</p>
08/14/2009 4:51:00 PM CDT
Angela Thomas says ...
<p>Thank you for having the courage to give readers a fair and educated editorial article.</p> <p>We support you, and the wise business practices that you have put into place at WF. </p> <p>The minute folks quit being 'responsible for our own lives and our own health' and started thinking others should be responsible to fix the damages by their bad daily decision, was the beginning of a very slippery slope. Our founding fathers would be livid!</p>
08/14/2009 4:53:00 PM CDT
SSN says ...
<p>don't back down from this. your piece was insightful and on the mark. those calling for a boycott are just blind followers of Obama w/ no sense of nuance. well done'¦</p>
08/14/2009 4:53:00 PM CDT
Pamela Okano says ...
<p>I'm sorry. While I don't disagree with all your points, I believe you miss the basic point. You've just told people like my brother'critically injured by a negligent driver whose condition leaves him uninsurable'to go take a hike. Donations through tax returns are not going to help. And trying to disassociate the corporation from your piece when you used Whole Foods repeatedly to support your claims is disingenuous. I think that you should post your op-ed piece on the bulletin boards of all Whole Foods stores. After all, you are its CEO.</p>
08/14/2009 4:55:00 PM CDT
john says ...
<p><strong>flaming</strong> Interesting universe you live in that you consider 'personal attacks' worse than denying people health care. You're too delicate for the former, but the latter is fine with you. Name calling burns your ears, but a kid dying because of lack of medical care, that's fine. Oh well, on to trader joes.</p>
08/14/2009 4:55:00 PM CDT
Diann Averett says ...
<p>Sir,</p> <p>What a well-reasoned solution you have outlined! That is because you understand the issue as well as the economics of it. If there were a Whole Foods Store near my house, I would shop there to show my support. I have heard that one may be built soon and you can be assured that I will patronize it. </p> <p>Thanks for your solution-minded approach.</p> <p>Diann Averett</p>
08/14/2009 4:55:00 PM CDT
Barbara Harmon says ...
<p>John,</p> <p>My husband and I have been voicing many of the same suggestions for reform, but you have definitely thought it out more fully ' and more publicly.</p> <p>You have provided a lucid and wide-ranging list of solutions. These are all very practical and do-able. Most importantly, these solutions, taken together, ensure that we, the people, retain control over the one of the most important aspects of life ' our health care. </p> <p>Even if we ignore the burdensome cost of the government's plan, the cost to our culture of freedom and independence would be devastating. We should do everything we can to empower people, not to make them wards of the state.</p> <p>Quick note: I experienced the public healthcare system in the UK a few years ago. It was very unsatisfactory (only one x-ray was allotted, and so they did not 'see' my leg fracture).</p> <p>Thanks for your courage in writing about this subject in a very volatile atmosphere. Hopefully you will continue the dialogue with more articles.</p>
08/14/2009 4:56:00 PM CDT
Kathy L says ...
<p>Hey, a CEO who can run a great business which employs people who consistently rank their workplace as tops in the US can tell us a lot. </p> <p>I appreciate your opinion on health care reform and think you have every right to share your company's successful formula with anyone who's willing to listen.</p> <p>I'm a three-times-per-week Whole Foods shopper who would never go anywhere else.</p>
08/14/2009 4:59:00 PM CDT
Michael Cooksey says ...
<p>You lost my business ' Now since this is a corporate site, delete this message and pretend people like you.</p>
08/14/2009 5:01:00 PM CDT
ward d'elia says ...
<p>This lays out the problem and the solution so very well. you must get this message out not just by more exposure by you but by encourageing other articulate responsible community leaders. the pols are helpless to speak up with this series of solutions so it must be done by the community in blogs ,letter to eds tv, parties, schools etc. thanks for your voice. When are you going ot have a store in NH?</p>
08/14/2009 5:02:00 PM CDT
PGeorge says ...
<p>Thank you Mr. Mackey for your response.</p> <p>But as a Whole Foods customer I can not in good conscious continue to shop at a store that has taken this kind of public position.</p> <p>Even if this does not reflect the general attitude of the other managers and employees of the company, knowing the CEO is so actively working to deny affordable and attainable health care to Americans ' all in the name of your libertarian political philosophy ' means I can no longer be a Whole Foods customer.</p> <p>I wish Whole Foods the best of luck in attracting your new target audience ' but this does not include me.</p> <p>Finally, wish to express your views on global warming, as well? It could be entertaining.</p>
08/14/2009 5:03:00 PM CDT