Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tempest in a tea pot

Recently the CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., John Mackey, penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on health care reform that has caused quite a stir. For the 'sin' of opposing and criticizing the proposed Democratic-led versions of health care (albeit indirectly), he has been roasted in the blogosphere and there are moves afoot to organize boycotts of Whole Foods. So, what did Mackey say that was so outrageous?

  • Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). 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.
  • Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.
  • 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 insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.
  • Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.
  • Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.
  • Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor's visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?
  • Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

  • 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.

Read 'The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare: Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit" for the entire piece.

OK, so what caused the outpouring of vitriol? After reading the oped this blogger isn't exactly sure. The eight actual recommendations made by Mackey (quoted above) are fairly unobjectionable, even if one does not feel that they are the solution... He also says that the current rates of deficit are not sustainable (something that is the position of the Obama administration); agrees for the need for health care reform (OK); that reforms be financially responsible (same position as the Obama administration); and that freedom of choice be maintained (ditto). Where he differs is regarding the role of government (he is against) and whether health care is a "right" (he says not).

OK, so folks can have differing opinions and still have a civil debate, or at least they should. Unfortunately for many this is not the case, from the screaming "death panel" folks on the right, to the ones throwing stones at Mackey and calling for boycotts on the left. Seeing the "Yoo-hoos" and "boycotters" one is forced to sympathize with Mercutio! Let's see if the President can "reset" the debate with his address o both houses of Congress next week!

Quick side notes: The board of Whole Foods really should severely chastise or even get rid of Mackey. Having an opinion one way or another is OK, but for the CEO of a public company to take a public position on a critical, political issue (not directly related to the company) that risks hurting the company... well, that is a breach of his fiduciary duty that is unacceptable. There should be consequences. As for those unhappy with Mackey's editorial, starting boycotts is really not the answer. Even were this to hurt Whole Foods' (e.g. by reducing sales) it would probably only be felt by the cashiers, shelf stockers, and other employees, and would not affect the object of their ire...

Previous entries on hospitals & health care:

That explains it... (death panels) - Sep 1st, 2009
Health care re-form IX (Apologies due) - Aug 30th, 2009
Health care re-form VIII (More nonsense) - Aug 28th, 2009
Health care re-form VII (Nonsense) - Aug 26th, 2009
Health care re-form VI (Effectiveness) - Aug 15th, 2009
Health care re-form V (The sales job) - Aug 14th, 2009
Health care re-form IV (What is it?) - Aug 13th, 2009
Health care re-form III (Why we spend more) - Aug 8th, 2009
Health care re-form II (P4P) - Aug 4th, 2009
Health care re-form I (Issues) - Aug 4th, 2009
So? - Jul 27th, 2009
Random chart... - Jul 12th, 2009
Random charts... - May 22nd, 2009
Random chart... - May 9th, 2009
Wyeth v. Levine - Mar 22nd, 2009
Financial crisis & hospitals - III - Mar 22nd, 2009
Random chart... - Feb 1st, 2009
Financial crisis & hospitals - II - Jan 27th, 2009
Random chart... - Jan 26th, 2009
Hospitals' financial update - Dec 25th, 2008
Good for the goose - Dec 11th, 2008
Studies of interest - IV - Nov 16th, 2008
Studies of interest - II - Nov 16th, 2008
Financial crisis & hospitals - I - Nov 14th, 2008

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