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Mackey Regarding Word Choice on Health Care

In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey discussed his new book, Conscious Capitalism, along with other topics such as health care. Today, John revisited his remarks on the Huffington Post and we are sharing them here.

I made a poor word choice to describe our health care system, which I definitely regret. The term fascism today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century.  While I'm speaking as someone who works hard to offer health care benefits to more than 73,000 team members, who actually vote on their overall benefits packages, I am very concerned about the uninsured and those with preexisting conditions. 

I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States.

I believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity. Despite the criticism of me, I am encouraged that this dialogue will bring continued awareness and a better understanding of viable health care options for all Americans. There is an alternative to mandated health care in free enterprise capitalism based on voluntary exchange for mutual gain. This alternative allows individuals and businesses to innovate and develop customized solutions to health care where a “one size fits all approach” fails.  Creativity and progress are stifled when government regulations dictate the parameters of what health care plans can be offered. Creative businesses, and the people who work them, can make something that has value for all stakeholders.

I need a new word or phrase to describe the state of health care now because it is something that I, like all folks entrusted with the wellbeing of a team, grapple with daily in this era.  I think for now I will simply call it government-controlled health care to distinguish it from free enterprise capitalist health care.  Clearly, I would prefer free enterprise capitalism in health care because it would greatly increase innovation and progress —just like it does in every other aspect of our lives, wherever it is allowed to exist. I hope those who are my critics, would recognize that we are all after an improved state of society, and not be distracted by the poor use of an emotionally charged word. 

If you would like to hear more from John, you can listen to him here:

CBS This Morning: “Bad Choice of Words”

Huffington Post

NPR Interview Part 1

NPR Interview Part 2

You can read more about John, his philosophy and his new book, Conscious Capitalism at:

Forbes: “Why Companies Should Embrace Conscious Capitalism”

Financial Post: “Making Money Need Not Be A Zero-Sum Game”

Investor Business Daily “John Mackey Built Healthy Food Empire”

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1163 comments

Comments

Timothy Owen says …

I used to spend a pile of cash at WF every month. When I found out they were pushing GMO, they lost my business.

Leslie Davison says …

I thought that your word choice was right on, true and accurate. Don't apologize.

Vicki Reyna says …

I understand why he has issued this....but that does not change the fact that what he initially spoke was TRUTH!!!! As far as I am concerned no apology or rescinding of the comment was required! Many in this nation will soon find out exactly what Obamacare will truly entail and they will NOT be happy with it!! As someone who is on Disability for M.S., I certainly want there to be changes in the way insurance companies and Medicare function especially for the disabled and elderly, but I do NOT want my health care to so damage the country that my children and grandchildren will suffer for years to come from its COST!!!

katharine petrequin says …

I was thrilled when I heard you moving closer to my home...now, after hearing your remarks about the president and the new healthcare law I am appalled and will NOT be shopping in your store...

Steve Symonds says …

I have been a loyal Whole Foods customer for years. That may sadly change as a result of Mackey's rant. Even his "corrected" statement is intellectually wrong and ethically offensive. America's "free market" healthcare system is demonstrably the worst value per dollar in the world. Healthcare here costs more than any other developed country -- and has the poorest results. On a world ranking, U.S. healthcare is right now there with Cuba's! Furthermore, more than 40 million Americans can't even get healthcare coverage. Mackey should be put out to pasture, frankly.

Zach says …

Hey John, not sure if you'll actually see this but I'm glad you decided to clarify exactly what you meant and I wholeheartedly agree with your position but I have a question of further clarification: in the capitalistic free market healthcare system what other role do you think govt can and should play within that system other than a passive safety net, or if you think that's all they should do?

Joey says …

I spend a lot of money at Whole Foods DAILY! One piece of advice, you run a business. Shut up and run your business! Nothing good comes from discussing religion or politics!

Miriam Jacobs says …

Sorry John, Having the government support your business by providing health care for your employees, instead of you paying them enough and/or providing benefits that adequately meet their health care needs is unacceptable to me. It is also unacceptable for employees of such a successful business to have to do without healthcare. YOU, the capitalist, need to provide for your employees. This law assures that you do just that. Hotheaded, wrong headed, hyperbolic discourse currently IS our largest and most destructive problem. Fortunately, in my area there are plenty of other grocery stores providing organic and quality merchandise. You've lost me as a customer.

John Richardson says …

Oh yes, our free enterprise health care system was such a glowing success in the past... not

Angela Brown says …

The open market you want has been open for how long now and what have they done???? I have a pre-existing condition and health care was more than my mortgage monthly. Why? Until forced, the open market just used people like me. I will NEVER step foot in a whole foods again. Such a shame I used to really love it.

Linda Medure-Ritter says …

I am a loyal WF customer for many years. I truly plant to start shopping at Fresh Market. John Mackey should be drummed out of the company. To equate Omabacare (and by implication the President_ with fascism is disgusting. He should apologize directly to the President.

john says …

Well we know where his heart is - so, not another penny of mine, not for along while. BOYCOTT

gia vera says …

Whole Foods has alientaed I was loyal customer of whole foods but i will no longer be shopping at your stores.

Dorothy Blalock says …

I am very offended over your comparing President Obama's health care program to fascism. Your apology probably is only for fear of losing customers, which I certainly hope you will. I will never speak highly of your store again, and I will certainly cut back on my shopping there. Shame on you.

Andrew Lauterback says …

You are living in a dream word if you think that all corporations will voluntarily provide their employees the health care we all deserve. In fact, today's reality shows just the opposite. Fortunately, I have health insurance, but preach your corporate conscience libertarianism to the millions of working Americans who are denied health insurance by their employers. This time you've gone way too far equating President Obama's Affordable Health Care Law with fascism. You can claim that it was a poor choice of words, but what is apparent is that you meant what you said but underestimated the reaction to it. It's in line with your other extreme right wing positions on climate change, collective bargaining, and the like. I've shopped at WF every since it came into Massachusetts and bought out Bread and Circus. I can't wait for Wegman's to get just a little closer to my home. I find your elitist and wacko views to be disgusting. Andrew Lauterback

Alisa Haley says …

This trend of retracting/clarifying/apologizing unpopular public comments is absurd. Mackey said what he meant and meant what he said the first time. I have been a long time W.F. customer and will never shop there again.

beth britt says …

I left a separate comment about John Mackay's use of the word Fascism, and my disappointment in the interview oveerall. Reading his comments above, while I believe that he is being sincere, I continue to be disappointed. I get that Obamacare is a challenge for a company that might have been trying to show leadership, and I myself am not thrilled by the program (personally I wanted single payer). But I have watched the political theater play itself out for the past ten years (and have some awareness of the past forty years), and as flawed as it is, this is the only substantive health care program designed to improve and expand health care overall (not just for whole foods employees) in the past 50 years. It was painful to craft and pass, reflected multiple compromises, and a complex political and economic reality. What exactly is Mr Mackay proposing? We should cancel Obamacare, and then pass some vague program similar to the one he heard about in Switzerland? What is his actual agenda for doing that, and where is the coalition that he has built to make that happen? Frankly, where was he the past ten years and how was he involved in passing the current law, and the Clinton attempt for health care reform? Is this truly his position? How do you possibly imagine that this is anything like a constructive contribution to either the political dialogue or the politics? Conscious Capitalism needs to be aware of the realities of the world, and not exist in an utopia, otherwise, its pretty useless and will easily be distorted by people who have completely other goals and agendas (and yes, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News wasted no time in repeating your statements).

jeremy says …

This comment is in response to Mr. Mackey's comment on our healthcare. Hopefully this gets to you. I shop at your stores and as you are a successful businessman I am interested in your take on our healthcare system in America. However, I respectfully disagree with your comments. Simply stated, the free market has provided what our society needs in terms of healthcare. As you know, around 40 million people are uninsured and those people who have it see their premiums increase every year. These increases are way past the rate of inflation. Furthermore, those who do have coverage routinely have coverage denied for procedures and medication by insurance companies. I personally have experienced this as well as my mother. The point being we have a free market system and it is not working. Sure the US has many of the leading procedures and doctors in the world, if you have access to them. The point being unfettered capitalism left to its own devices eats itself. We saw this with the banking crisis which was a repeat of the same mentality that led to the Great Depression. We need some countervailing balance to the strength of private corporations and that is the government to put in regulations like for example no denying people with pre-existing conditions. Capitalism doesn't always lead to innovation, in fact sometimes big corporation work out right to stifle it. We saw record and movie companies try to do this with online distribution of IP. You could also you could look at are telecommunications infrastructure which is behind some other companies in terms of speed and pricing due to lack of competitiveness. Or look to the patent wars going on by Apple and Samsung, which scare start ups from happening because of litigation expenses. The examples are numerous where business put profits over everything else including service to the customer and ethics. But that is the point I think, not everything should be treated like a commodity. For example, we don't treat education as such because we value it too high. Shouldn't people's health be as important? I like to think your company is a bit different. Maybe in the longterm we could wait until all businesses develop the same morals as maybe your company does. But like John Maynard Keynes said, in the long term we're all dead. People are suffering and dying from ailments while we have been shuffling our feet on the subject since Nixon. Maybe we should model our system more like Switzerland or Australia. I don't know. But we need to look at this thoughtfully and truthfully. Furthermore, keep in mind the only reason this has become a subject of debate again is because the government forced the issue. Best Regards

Will says …

I appreciate Mr. Mackey's visionary leadership and honesty. We need to honor individuals who speak truth to power and strive to bring real solutions to the challenges that face our country. Thanks for your voice!

Cynthia Wells says …

Mr. Mackey talks about his concern for his employees then links the same program that will help them with Fascism. I'm sorry but I have shopped at Whole foods for the last time. There are other stores out there that offer "whole foods" that are thrilled to be able to be sure that their employees have health care and would never call President Obama a Fascist. BTW his word was changed because he is worried about losing business. Welcome to capitalism where we can shop where we want.

Anon says …

I think Mr. Mackey should choose his words very carefully. He may be right, he may be wrong, but when it comes down to it, anything he says directly effects his team members, all 73,000 of them. From every day business, to stocks, etc. When you are the CEO of a multi million dollar corporation, you have to think before you speak.

Bruce Ferguson says …

John: thanks for that Non-Apology apology. Your elected Congress passed a law that you don't like. Now you have to comply with it. To compare the president or his policies to fascism is wrong---and you committed that wrong. You demean yourself and insult others who've lived under fascist governments. Until today, I've driven by two other food retailers to buy from your store. No more. You lost a customer with your "...poor word choice to describe our health care system."

Betty Owens says …

I have been a Whole Foods shopper since you only had one tiny store on Lamar in Austin. I was just at my local store in Montrose this afternoon. Mr. Mackey, either you don't know what fascism means, since President Obama is clearly not a dictator, or you deliberately used an incendiary word incorrectly to pander to those who oppose this President's policies. Moreover, health care is particularly ill-suited to a capitalist enterprise, which is built on the profit motive. Often, the most effective treatment is not the most profitable. A good example is Type 2 diabetes. The first line of defense ought to be counseling and monitoring of diet and exercise, which is often sufficient to control or reverse the disease, but that is not nearly as profitable as prescribing drugs. This is not a theoretical statement. Hospitals have tried diabetes clinics but had to shut them down because they weren't making money. If you truly want everyone to have adequate access to health care, you should support universal health care. Many people do not work for a company committed to providing adequate benefits. Whole Foods can't hire everyone.

Allison says …

I will never shop at WF again. It's a rip off to begin with, and now that I know this guy's irrational political views, he won't get a dollar of my money again. Trader Joe's and Fairway - here I come.

Lesley Broat says …

As someone who WAS employed until 10/12/12 and HAD health insurance for both myself & my daughter I agree somewhat with the statement above. Losing my job was both the best & worst thing that ever happened to me. I learned to not take anything for granted. I'm a 63 yr old widow with chronic health conditions and my daughter is 24, suffering from depression/anxiety and an auto immune disorder. We don't qualify for state aid and the cost of COBRA Insurance is more than my Unemployment insurance. I don't qualify for medicare or social security at this time, am unable to find a job; so what is there for people like my daughter and I. The thought of being 'on the dole' is frightening. Business owners like yourself need to step up and let the government know that there are 'shadow' people out there. People like myself who are willing and able to work, be responsible citizens, all we ask is a chance to prove our worth in exchange for some health insurance and a paycheck.

Bill McBride says …

I'll buy two of everything now to make up for the boycotters.

K O'Sullivan says …

John; you have lost me as a customer. I am sure the Mackey family have first rate coverage on the backs of the Whole Foods Workers. We have plenty of choices for fresh food in our area, and we do not have to support a corporate bully like you John Mackey!!

Sandra says …

I saw the interview on CBS today. I'm sorry to say that I do not believe Mr. Mackey's remarks were simply "a poor choice of words". I believe he meant every word and is trying to cover his behind and the damage he did to his company's reputation for promoting health. I also believe he is an enemy of the current administration and has joined the radical right wing that is determined to be obstructionist!!.Unfortunate.

JACK CRAWFORD says …

You said it right the first time. Don't be afraid of other people's feelings.

Mony says …

I disagree with John Mackey but I understand we all have different ideas on healthcare. So the debate continues. That said, I will still be shopping at Whole Foods since Mr. Mackey's views does not change the contents carried in the stores. I just hope Mr. Mackey will have a change of heart further down the road. Our current healthcare system is truly broken and while Obamacare is by no means perfect, it is a step in the right direction.

Rick C. says …

I have been a very regular customer at Whole Foods and after listening to the John's interview and hearing his point of view I will be shopping even more at WF than before. He is absolutely correct in that this is a program that is being shoved down our throats and that instead of this there should be a national group insurance program that individuals can participate in who don't get insurance through an employer. Instead, these individual premiums are so high that it prevents many people from being able to afford insurance. If there was some sort of national group insurance available through the provate sector, many more people could afford insurance. I also feel that again there seems to be a failure to focus on one of the primary problems with health care and that deals with the liability that doctors and hospitals must account for. If this was addressed I think our overall cost of healthcare could be greatly reduced. But of course, this group of attorneys are in favor of the status quo and we know who they primarily support.

J Webb says …

All of you bleeding libs need to understand that Obama Care is not free. Someone is paying for it. Healthcare represents over 20 percent of our GDP. As an American you have no "Right" to free healthcare. We will now necessarily will see a drop in the overall quality of care. There are unintended consequences of the government trying to take from private enterprise. John Mackey is right on target. If you don't have a brain or desire to understand where he is coming from then don't vote. Keep in mind, McDonald's got an exemption on the healthcare requirements for business. You should be asking yourself "why?" instead of boycotting a business that is run for profit. Oh and by the way, his comments make me want to support the store even more.

Mike Weisberg says …

The definition of fascism is corporate control of the government. The pre-Obama care status quo is insurance industry control of health care. Obamacare is a slight improvement. Please consider me a former customer. My family will never shop at Whole Foods again, thanks to the asinine comments p of your CEO.

jodie says …

I am totally disgusted by your constant derision of the policies of the President. Calling his policies socialist and fascist make you should like a backwoods tea billy. The AFCA is not perfect but it is a step in the right direction for millions of people who don't have access to health insurance. Wealthy people like you, who don't even need health insurance because you can afford to pay for procedures out of your pocket, don't get it. There are millions of americans that have preexisting conditions and can't even get health insurance at any cost, and the AFCA helps these people get insurance. You need to evaluate your positions before speaking, consider others who are less fortunate than you and realize that your riches are gained by the very people you deride. I will never shop at your store again.

Janet Goodwin says …

I'll no longer be supporting this company. I'm only interested in companies that value community higher than free market ideology; companies that are passionate about the values behind their products and who are not just "flogging stuff". I have doubts.

Peg McGlinch says …

This doesn't begin to apologize adequately for the breathtakingly ignorant and offensive comparison of a domestic policy disagreement to fascism. I get that Mackey walked back that comment after he got rightly flamed for it. But his walkback makes it clear that he still doesn't understand what fascism is or why people found the comparison so incredibly insensitive and ill-informed. Frankly, I don't really care about his position on healthcare policy, but I do care that his comparison is an insult to Holocaust survivors, World War II vets, and everybody else who has been harmed by ACTUAL fascist governments. What they encountered bears NO RESEMBLANCE to any domestic policy, regardless of how much money it costs Mackey. I actually would have been interested to hear a constructive account of the reasons why he opposes the bill, but not if he has to resort to these ridiculous extremes. As a consumer, I could hardly be more offended. WF has been my primary grocery store for years--I spent $150 there just Monday, the day before this whole issue arose. I will miss WF--I loved shopping there. But I spend so much on groceries over the course of a year that I cannot in good conscience continue to supply that money to your company. Goodbye.

M. Bell says …

Mr Mackey, I have decided that CEO greed ahead of employee welfare is the policy of a company with whom I choose to no longer deal with. Equating Obama to facis will be, I hope, a grave wound to your business. Your apology strikes me as business based and insincere. Goodbye. M. Bell St Augustine, FL(Jacksonville store)

R T Whitfield says …

We have 2 new stores opening in Knoxville soon. I will not spend one penny in either of them. I have shopped at Whole Foods in Austin TX and I was looking forward to having one in this area. I will not, can not shop in a Whole Food store again, especially since Costco opened here recently. R T Whitfield nsbrit@att.net

Larry Schmeiser says …

You just lost one more loyal customer. I have to go out of my way to get to Vitamin Cottage, but I will be doing that from now on. Just the way the free market works, I guess.

Kay says …

Your comments are insincere at best. The free market has made a mess of health care. The government intervenes to help people who cannot afford private insurance. Apology not accepted. Please consider resigning to help your company regain its respect with customers.

Vaughn says …

No need to further explain your views. You are an individual and are certainly entitled to any opinion you wish. The people who are threatening to boycott are full of it. Further, these people are a vocal fringe minority. I LOVE your store, and your products, and will buy 3 times as much now to make up for anyone boycotting!

ALLMOND WILLIAMS says …

Dear Sir; I would buy your point of view if the insurance companies didn't do like you do look at the bottom line. THIS means people won't matter if there is no profit margin. So don't be so elitist saying that capitalism is the best way when it comes to Health you can't put a profit line to it. The Human body is not like stocking shelves in a grocery store.

Lisa says …

I find your clarification insincere and intellectually dishonest. As CEO, an author and a man of your experience and intellect, your word choice reflects your familiarity with the language and belies your authentic feeling on the matter. I will take my shopping dollars to my local market and their improving organic lines.

Linda says …

Don't use the new health care system as a scapegoat to not offer your employees valuable benefits. Whole Foods has the money. You buy a few items and the bill is over $100. Used to shop at Whole Foods but will shop elsewhere until further notice. Whole Foods should be at a higher standard because your entire marketing efforts are based on being Sustainable, taking care of farmers which should include taking care of your valuable employees. And with your logic, the Veterans Health care system should be abolished as this is government controlled! One last thing we have had "free capitalist" health care and what has happened? There has NOT been any new innovations. In fact the past decade most bankruptcies occurred because of health care costs by insurance companies. And how about all the people who suffered being kicked off health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Do you call this innovation?

Mike C. says …

I have a pre-existing condition so this issue is very personal to me. Ironically, I did all of my shopping at a Whole Foods that was just a block from my house as I was recovering from a major lung surgery. I find your CEOs comments to be tone deaf and most likely contrary to the beliefs of a good portion of the WF customer base. I'll be exercising my free market rights and taking my business elsewhere from now on. I'm disappointed in WF and expected more.

Teri Gatto says …

Good attempt at crisis management. But I think you said exactly what you meant. And henceforth will shop elsewhere. T. Gatto

Kimberley Edwards says …

Mr. Mackey, I spend a lot of money in your Glendale CA store. To be honest, it's rather difficult to shop in one of your stores WITHOUT spending a lot of money, but I appreciate the quality and selection you offer, and being able to maintain my health while having as little involvement as humanly possible with our bankrupting for-profit health insurance industry is of paramount importance to me. I must let you know that it deeply disturbs me that when spending this money I’m putting it in the pocket of someone whose values, and, it must be assumed, political activities and contributions are so far from my own. Regardless of your rationalization in the form of an apology, it’s quite obvious that your use of the word "fascism" in regards to the current administration’s attempt to address the excesses of the for-profit health insurance industry was intended as a swipe at the popularly elected president who I'm guessing a majority of your customers, like the majority of Americans overall, support. The use of such inflammatory rhetoric is highly toxic to our already tainted national dialog, which is as divided and hateful as at any time in our history at least since the Civil War. The for-profit, free-market so-called "health care" system that we're burdened with in this country is a price gouging, care-denying, poverty-inducing racket of the first order. This country is THIRTY SEVENTH in health care. Every other western industrialized nation does a far superior job in taking care of their citizen's health care needs that our country does, as evidenced in terms of such things as life expectancy and infant mortality. There is no excuse for people in the wealthiest nation on earth to die from lack of insurance coverage, but they do. Middle class people who have insurance coverage nevertheless go bankrupt, lose their homes, because of the unbelievable financial burdens they face when serious illness or injury strikes. This is morally inexcusable and completely unjustifiable, especially in light of the fact that we can look to at least 36 other countries for some indication of how we might improve our system. This insistence upon free market ideology as a cure all for all that ails us is nothing but a massive blind spot that holds this nation back from providing a level of health security that the citizens of any civilized nation should be able to count upon as their birthright. This situation is no longer tolerable to the majority of Americans. The free-market insurance system may have financed a successful enough scare campaign to keep us from getting as much reform as we needed, but for-profit health care has miserably failed in America, and the majority of Americans, including your customers, know it. When you toss around words like "fascist," you add to the disgusting level of the political divide in this nation, you insult the president that the majority of Americans support, and you insult many of your customers who pay the inflated prices in your stores in an attempt to maintain their health at the highest level possible since most of them couldn't afford to get sick even if they do have insurance. Sincerely, Kimberley Edwards, Los Angeles CA

Marina says …

US has been having a free enterprise capitalist health care for profit for a while now. It got to the point that seeing a doctor is a luxury less and less people can afford. Costs have been going through the roof and accessibility and quality for an average person has gone down. Do you honestly think we'd be better off in the future to have it all 100% run by greedy private insurance co.???? Really???

Debbie Wasserman says …

You sound very much like a wealthy 1%'er, almost Tea Party in making Fox like comments regarding the health care reform. Have you even studied costs of "free enterprise" health care vs regulated? Contrasted costs now here vs other countries? All new programs have their struggles in the beginning. The saying about worrying about my children & grandchildren is trotted out so regularly I have to believe it's a Fox mantra. Used to shop all the time WF. Never again, really tired of the disrespect & lies. My other relatives too-poof! Gone.

Brian says …

Sorry, too little too late. It is those John Mackey type freudian slips that expose the true measure of a person. This CEO's values and positions reflect those of the whole organization. I will no longer shop at Whole Foods.

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