Mackey’s Whole Foods recipe for health-care reform

Mackey’s Whole Foods recipe for health-care reform

John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods has ticked off a bunch of his lefty, granola-crunchy customers with a Wall Street Journal op-ed offering a set of free-market health-care reforms as an alternative to the massive expansion of government being called Obamacare.

Mackey lists eight proposed reforms to current laws as well as a diagnosis of why we’re in such dire straits over health-care costs in this country. The eight reforms are:


  1. Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

  3. Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.

  5. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.

  7. Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

  9. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

  11. Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.

  13. Enact Medicare reform.

  15. 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.

See the whole article to read his explanation of each of these points. I especially like the first suggestion, which is what they do at Whole Foods. They pay 100% of the premiums on high-deductible insurance for their full-time employees (30 hours or more) and then up to $1,800 in health-savings accounts (HSAs) which the employees can spend on health-related expenses, including the deductible for the insurance, which is $2,500. Even with that $1,800 the company is saving money over traditional insurance. In addition, the HSA unspent balances rollover from year to year so the HSA balance could quickly reach $2,500 depending on how the employee spends money. Yet even without the rollover, there is only a $700 gap between the HSA and the deductible.

Melanie and I have been discussing this, especially since the claims and explanations of benefits and bills have been coming in for Melanie’s pregnancy, Benedict’s birth, and subsequent care. We’re not ones to rush to the doctor or emergency room at the drop of a hat, but it occurs to us that out-of-pocket expenses would deter more people from getting expensive treatments for routine and minor problems. Insurance would be there only to cover the cost for unusual and expensive ailments.

Meanwhile doctors could afford to charge their patients an out-of-pocket price they can pay. When we took Sophia took her pediatrician for treatment of her nursemaid’s elbow, we saw the doctor for all of about 5 minutes while she popped it back into joint. And yet our health insurer was charged $160! I don’t necessarily blame the doctor. Melanie—who once worked as an office manager for a psychiatric practice—said it’s common for doctors to submit higher prices to the insurers because the insurers are aggressively pre-disposed to rejecting claims or paying only a portion of what was asked. It’s a dysfunctional system. And because it’s so comprehensive and expensive, it encourages people to use it for relatively trivial needs.

If our home insurance worked like our health insurance we’d file a claim every time a light bulb needed changing or when the toilet stopped up or the exterior needed painting. Sounds great until we relize how quickly the home insurance system would collapse under the financial weight of all those claims.

Mackey makes the point as well that while we often hear people speak of the “right” to health care, what we actually have is a right to access. Nowhere in Christian moral principles or in the US Constitution is there a right to free or essentially free health care for everyone regardless of ability to pay. What we have instead is an obligation, you and me, to provide in Christian charity for the poor among us. This is what Catholic hospitals and charities once did so well, but even they have become distracted by the diseased and dysfunctional system we have now that does more to serve the interests of health-care executives, the politicians they fund, and the union bosses pandering to their membership than it does to serve the average American.

I just wish there were more CEOs and influence-wielders like Mackey willing to step up to the plate and offer a chance at real reform.

Barney Frank’s Pollyanna attitude

To add a bit to Mackey’s call for Medicare reform, Massachusetts Democrat Congressman Barney Frank spoke to the Boston Herald about Obamacare town halls the other day and came up with this defense of the proposed medical-industry reforms:

“I have been reading recently about denunciations of government-run health plans and how they will lead to socialized medicine and the end of choice of medical care. They were all comments about Medicare in 1965. We had this debate (about Medicare) 44 years ago and I think it’s proven to be very good.”

Oh really, Barney? How good is Medicare? How well is it faring? Well, the experts are predicting that it’s headed for bankruptcy in 2017 at last check. Oh yeah, Barney, it’s great. Just like when you told us in 2003 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were not in crisis and that, in fact, they should expand their programs to grant mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them. That one worked out wonderfully too.