Whole Food Market's Founder Stirred Controversy in Health Care Reform Debate

publication date: Mar 5, 2010

Unless you've been living under a rock, you surely know that debate over health care reform is a big topic in Washington over the past year. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see the issue resolved and out of the news - frankly, I'm tired of hearing about it. That said, I know many folks are concerned about what's being discussed and what may or may not happen and the implications that could have for the future.

One of the more interesting commentaries on health care reform was offered by Whole Foods Market's CEO John Mackey late last summer. Mackey's commentary touched off a bit of a firestorm, not surprisingly, because his supermarket chain, which specializes in natural and organic products, attracts a politically diverse range of customers and some of those folks, especially the most liberal ones, weren't pleased by the positions he took.

Given all the political posturing and rhetoric coming out of Washington right now, I encourage you to consider Mackey's thoughts. (Send me an email with your reactions, ideas and links to articles and ideas you've found of interest).

Background to the WSJ Op/Ed

Whole Foods Market was founded in Austin, Texas, by four local businesspeople (John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy, owners of Safer Way Natural Foods, and Craig Weller and Mark Skiles, owners of Clarksville Natural Grocery) who saw that the natural foods industry was ready for a supermarket format. The original Whole Foods Market opened in 1980 with a staff of only 19 people. Today the company boasts more than 280 stores and 50,000 employees.


In his blog, Mackey explains that he was asked to write an Op/Ed and in it, he gave his "...personal opinions. While I am in favor of health care reform, Whole Foods Market as a company has no official position on the issue. In answer to President Obama's invitation to all Americans to put forward constructive ideas for reforming our health care system, I wrote this Op/Ed piece called simply ‘Health Care Reform.' An editor at the Journal rewrote the headline to call it ‘Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare,' which led to antagonistic feelings by many. That was not my intention - in fact, I do not mention the President at all in this piece."

Having written for the print media for two decades now, I can confirm what Mackey says about newspaper and magazine editors choosing their own titles for articles. Over the years, I've gotten some complaints from readers about titles applied to my print articles and most of the time, the complaints had validity but I have to simply inform the reader that I didn't choose the headline!

Mackey's Reform Ideas

In his introduction, Mackey begins by quoting former British Prime Minister who said,

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." That right there I'm sure rankled the far left! He then continued:

"With a projected $1.8 trillion deficit for 2009, several trillions more in deficits projected over the next decade, and with both Medicare and Social Security entitlement spending about to ratchet up several notches over the next 15 years as Baby Boomers become eligible for both, we are rapidly running out of other people's money. These deficits are simply not sustainable and they are either going to result in unprecedented new taxes and inflation or they will bankrupt us. 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 moves us much closer to a complete governmental takeover of our health care system."

Mackey then outlined his eight ideas for health care reform which he claims would lower costs and involve "...less governmental control and more individual empowerment." 

  1. Remove the legal obstacles which slow the creation of high deductible health insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts.
  2. Change the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have exactly the same tax benefits.  Right now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible for employers but private health insurance is not. This is unfair.
  3. 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 health insurance wherever we live.  Health insurance should be portable everywhere.
  4. Repeal all government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance many billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual health insurance customer preferences and not through special interest lobbying.
  5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors into paying insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are ultimately being passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.
  6. Make health care costs transparent so that consumers will understand what health care treatments cost. How many people know what their last doctor's visit cost? What other goods or services do we as consumers buy without knowing how much they will cost us?  We need a system where people can compare and contrast costs and services.
  7. Enact Medicare reform: we need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and move towards greater patient empowerment and responsibility.
  8. Permit individuals to make voluntary tax deductible donations on their IRS tax forms to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or any other government program.

In addition, Mackey later in the piece addressed the importance of personal health habits in impacting one's health:

American Diet

"Rather than increase governmental spending and control, what we need to do is address the root causes of disease and poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for their own health. Unfortunately many of our health care problems are self-inflicted with over 2/3 of Americans now overweight and 1/3 obese. Most of the diseases which are both killing us and making health care so expensive-heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity, which account for about 70% of all health care spending, are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal or no alcohol consumption, and other healthy lifestyle choices."


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Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.