The Whole Foods Plan for Health Care Reform


Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who is a donor to the Reason Foundation, takes to the Wall Street Journal to sketch out his eight-point plan for health care reform. Excerpt:

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 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.

Many of Mackey's recommendations will be familiar to readers of Reason's past health care coverage, including Science Correspondent Ron Bailey's most recent manifesto.

As someone who h-a-t-e-s the health care system, I've never understood why de-linking insurance from employment isn't a central part of every serious crack at reform, given that a preponderance of analysts on all sides of the debate agree that the post-war linkage of health benefits to the workplace is one of the system's Original Sins.

To relate one of those "personal stories" Team Obama seems to value so highly, I left my previous job on a Friday, and started the new one on a Monday, with yards of paperwork filed in advance, in a desperate attempt to maintain my health coverage and not get sucked into a Cobra nightmare. The result? Something like six or seven weeks of…a Cobra nightmare! One that coincided with A) my wife discovering she was pregnant, and B) us moving across the country. I am still sorting through the paperwork and quintuply-filed bills on that fiasco, and the cost difference between what I paid for and what I would have paid fr had we maintained a portable, individualized plan (keep in mind that my current and previous employer use the same health care provider), was at least in the high four figures. Is that the "status quo" I want protected? Hell no, it's not.

And for those of you wiseacres who tell me it's my own damned fault for not shelling out coin for my own insurance, know this: California isn't exactly crawling with insurance companies offering people deals. Though I'm healthy, during my long-suffering freelance journalism career I was turned down for health insurance by both Kaiser and Blue Cross, and the one company that finally let me give them money refused to cover any childbirthin', then jacked up my premiums by more than 50 percent after Year 1. How much of that lack of competition is a result of individual state regulation and an inability to cross state lines? I don't know. But common sense suggests that such restrictions certainly don't produce more choice.

I would be open to supporting a reform package that treats individual existence on equal footing as full-time employment, while removing barriers to competition for those individual consumers. Health care security, and general availability, after all, are part of the core problems we're trying to solve here, right? Unfortunately, things don't seem to be headed in that direction.