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Whole Foods CEO John Mackey had a long op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday in which he addressed the ongoing health care debate, writing that “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.”

There are two specific recommendations/observations that Mackey makes that we will focus on here:

• “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.”

• “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.”
KC's View:
It is an interesting and thoughtful piece, notable for being written in an environment where there are a lot of people being anything but thoughtful. (Thank goodness that the words “death panels” appears nowhere in the column … though he does sneak in a reference to socialism, which can by itself inflame a lot of people.)

Among the other recommendations Mackey makes are to “equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits,” and to “repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.” Seems sensible to me…though like most other Americans (I’m guessing), I am conflicted and confused about what the best approach to health care reform should be, so what do I know.

I guess I am just grateful for thoughtfulness and calm. Since there is no single health care bill at this point, and there is a long way to go before there is one (if indeed the Congress is able to agree on anything), there ought to be a role for reasoned discussion.