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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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Frederick Warren says …

I accept Mr Mackey's apology. He has no idea of the pain inflicted by fascist regimes during the forties, and to use that term is pure fantasy. Regarding health care, we have the worst health care system of advanced countries because it is in the hands of "capitalists." "Insurance" is a scam for health care; it makes investors a lot of money, and leaves nearly 50,000,000 Americans without health care, because it is unaffordable. That's the "free market" system for you! Health care should be a guaranteed right, and in the non-profit or public sector sector, as is our: police and fire services; education; much of the arts; and our public lands, public media and public universities. To guarantee EVERY American with $150 per month of PREVENTATIVE CARE would relieve America of its epidemics of obesity, cancer, addiction, and heart problems. The "free market" has never, and will never, provide a healthy lifestyle for the majority of Americans.

stephanie says …

Returning from a 4 week leave of absence, I returned to this e-mail about retracting your statement. I am so sorry you had to apologize for what you said. Obamacare is going to do nothing but harm to the American people. I am also sorry that if you are not a left wing liberal, you cannot speak your opinion in this country. I think you said the right thing and I am proud of your courage to say it.

robert says …

You are scrambling, dissimulating, and trying (unsuccessfully, I hope) to mitigate the effect that your true feelings about the issue has had on your profit margin. Having spent a fortune over the years at WF, I shall be looking elsewhere in the future. As for a capitalist free enterprise based health system like you claim they have in Switzerland, there is obviously room for innovation elsewhere; France is thought to have the best health care in the world, the UK has excellent preventive health care. You make enough money, pay your taxes and let the government do it.

Lance Rosenthal says …

I find that after hearing the fascism remark that I have alternatives of where I spend my grocery money. Not as much of it will be going to Whole Foods now that I know the attitude of the CEO.

Lisa says …

Thank you so very much to Mr. Mackey for your comments, wisdom, and vision. My husband comes from an Eastern European former communist country with government run healthcare, and we have seen the many problems with this system, such as lack of competition, which results in poor healthcare overall. Thank you for being bold enough to stand for what you know is right, even though there may be those who disagree. We applaud you. We LOVE shopping at Whole Foods and again, are so thankful to you and your company for your vision long ago in creating a healthy market. Wishing you all the best! Blessings, Lisa

Barbara Collins says …

Thanks for striking out your words to all that listen! We must stand up for "Capitalism" & "American values" ... if not our America will be lost. Thanks for your voice! Sincerely, Barbara Collins

Michael Ritter says …

Excuse me, but your rant and "clarified" rant both presuppose there is something remotely like a health care free market in the US today as an alternative to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Are you kidding? If you have a shred of intellectual honesty, reply to this post and lay out in as much detail as you can how this "free market" works today or how you would specifically, in detail, change the current situation so that a health care free market would exist. If you do respond in this manner you might contribute to a dialog leading to something useful. If you don't you are simply another demagogue spewing anger and hate.

Christine says …

J.M. spoke the truth - no need to apologize. I shop at WF almost every day and will continue to do so to support a leading business person that has the guts to speak up.

Kathryn McEachin says …

Mr.Mackey, I have worked in healthcare for over 30 years and agree with much that you say! I am anxiously awaiting the opening of your new store in Tallahassee, FL! I just wanted to comment that there are many reasons that patients are having to pay more out of pocket. To me, the most outrageous reason is the outsourcing by hospitals for use of hospitalists and Emergency room providers who are no longer hospital employees and who are not enrolled with the insurance plans that the hospitals tell you they accept. Many times, patients do not know that the doctor who saw them while they were in the hospital is not on their insurance plan until they get a bill. When the hospitalist or ER physician is not enrolled as a provider with the patient's insurance, the patient typically has to pay an enormous amount out-of-pocket since there is no limiting charge (except under Medicare). To my knowledge, Obama-Care does not address this and many other day-to-day issues. Too bad they did not speak with those of us who work with this on a daily basis!

Dentist in Northridge CA says …

hmmm very good, Such a good points for word choice on health care from Mr. John Mackey .... I really appreciate your work coz it assists me to have some sense of communications with my staff as I have been working for a dentist so it helped me a lot...Thanks for your post!!!

Dentist in Northridge CA says …

I also believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity to encourage the awareness and a better understanding for people who work hard and can make something valuable for business.

Patricia Cox says …

I don't mind your stance on health care being nationalized like the Swiss or French folks...I think their system is way better than ours as well. And I know this may seem off topic but it really isn't...I'd like to ask you about food costs which are equally as important to health and well being. If people could afford health care they would just do that...if people could afford healthful and safe food, they would do that too. I was just in the Cary store the other day and was at the deli counter and was going to buy some tuna and cranberry salad. To my surprise and HORROR, the 49 cents amount of tuna salad came to almost $6.00!!! Why in the world would you charge $9.99 a lb for tuna fish? Even if it were gold lined it would NOT be worth $9.99 a lb. Reasonable prices and quality should be a driving force for someone who voices concern about health care fairness and availability, if that is truly your stance. However, on the back end, where "...food is thy medicine..." you're making it most difficult for everyone to do just that. I've been to farmers markets, I've shopped in other stores for equally satisfying safe foods and you've just gone nuts with the over pricing. And even though I've shopped in your stores as much as I could afford to for many years, I have to say that staying a patron of your stores has pretty much come to a halt because greed now drives the prices in your stores. I can't do that anymore. I'm on disability and my $62,000 a year job is gone and I now live on less than $1,000 a month. So you can imagine that if you're only willing to reach out to people who are financially to the point where they can afford to overpay for their food, then you cut a very large portion of the population that would otherwise frequent your stores as well...a bad choice in my humble but firm opinion.

John Barlow says …

Ignorance has powered the rhetoric around the affordable care act which has already positively affected the way healthcare is provided in this country and is on the way to making it affordable and available to all. It is sad to see such ignorance from the CEO of Whole Foods. I shop nearly 100% at Whole Foods, but no more.