John Mackey on the Whole Foods Plan and Why Individuals Can Be Trusted to Make Their Own Health-Care Decisions


In an interview with Stephen Moore, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey defends his Wall Street Journal health-care op-ed:

"President Obama called for constructive suggestions for health-care reform," he explains. "I took him at his word." Mr. Mackey continues: "It just seems to me there are some fundamental reforms that we've adopted at Whole Foods that would make health care much more affordable for the uninsured."

Sounds reasonable enough. Who could be against constructive suggestions? Oh, that's right, the folks who decided that Mackey's proposals were so intolerable that they required a boycott.

And what awful, awful plan is he pushing on the world?

…Mr. Mackey says that combining "our high deductible plan (patients pay for the first $2,500 of medical expenses) with personal wellness accounts or health savings accounts works extremely well for us." He estimates the plan's premiums plus other costs at $2,100 per employee, and about $7,000 for a family. This is about half what other companies typically pay. "And," he is quick to add, "we do cover pre-existing conditions after one year of service."

Whole Foods also puts several hundred dollars into a health savings account for each worker. This money can be used to cover routine medical expenses, like drug purchases or antismoking programs. If that money is not used in a year, the workers can save the money to pay for expenses in later years.

This type of plan does not excite proponents of a single-payer system, who think that individuals can't make wise health-care choices, and that this type of system is "antiwellness" because it discourages spending on preventive care.

Mr. Mackey scoffs at that idea: "The assumption behind that is that people don't care about their own health, and that somebody else has to—a nanny or somebody—has to take care of me because people are too stupid to make these decisions themselves. That's not been our experience. We find our team members [employees], not surprisingly, seem to care a whole lot about their health."

Indeed, we've recently seen additional research that points toward the same conclusion: When people pay for their care out of dollars they control, they actually use more preventive care—while achieving similar results for less money.

More on the Whole Foods health-care kerfuffle here and here.