Saturday, August 15, 2009

Interesting Thoughts on Health Reform...

This is a great article published this week in the Wall Street Journal. It's written by John Mackey, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods. I think this guy has some great common sense ideas about health care reform in America.

Wouldn't it be great if we ALL had the Whole Foods employee benefits?!


The Whole Foods Alternative to Obamacare

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people’s money.”

—Margaret Thatcher

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. 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 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. Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:

• 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.

• 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.

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor’s Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million.

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund. Our Canadian and British employees express their benefit preferences very clearly—they want supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health-care benefit dollars if they already have an “intrinsic right to health care”? The answer is clear—no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.—or in any other country.

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. Doing so will enrich our lives and will help create a vibrant and sustainable American society.

—Mr. Mackey is co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc.


Marcy Faye Hallden said...

Some of the things he says about Canada simply have not been true for me. I have received all the healthcare I have needed without the government "approving" the procedures. This also includes infertility treatments. As a whole, Canadian and Brits are VERY happy with their healthcare. My eyes have been opened to a new thing, and I LOVE it! And no one is going bankrupt up here because of medical bills. By the way, did you know stats show Canadians live longer than Americans?? Not saying America needs a Canadian system, but I do believe when you live in one of the richest countries on the planet, ALL people should be able to go to a dr and get some healthcare. The insurance companies in the states are getting away with robbery! My husband says I "sound" mad when I comment about these topics--I'm not mad at all, but I am passionate about it. Thanks for the post.

Nicole said...

Hey Marcy, thanks for your comment. I don't think you sound "mad", so no worries!

A couple of thoughts. I am glad you have had a great experience with your Canadian health care. I wonder, though, if it's because you are young, relatively healthy, and have no chronic disease (although you could argue that you are receiving treatment for infertility). It seems like most of the statistics I read are from Canadians who are not young, or healthy, and who may have chronic disease. No way to prove that theory, though, since it's based on random polls and opinions. Just a thought.

Also, I think the biggest misconception in this whole debate is that a Canadian system would work for America. America has 10 times the population as Canada and has a totally different demographic. Suggesting that a governmental program that covers 33 million people easily in Canada would work for America's 330 million just seems like comparing apples and oranges. I also wonder how many people in Canada don't pay tax at all. In America, it's about 50% of the population who don't pay tax AT ALL. How can a massive government health care system possibly work with only half of the population paying for it? I also doubt that Canada has the illegal immigrant (non-tax-payer) population that we do. I'd guess that if you added the estimated 20 million people who are in this country illegally, yet get the benefits of our government programs, even the Canadian system would go bust.

In my mind, this is really a question of the American way. It's one of the reasons America is successful - the core American value that you work hard and are responsible for yourself and your family...and don't look to the government to take care of you (and/or your health). Mainly, I am opposed to the expansion of government into the realm of health care. Do we need insurance reform? Yes, probably. But do we need an overhaul that creates a massively expensive new government entitlement program with taxpayers footing the bill? I don't think so.

Marcy, I totally appreciate your perspective! After all, you live in Canada and I don't! I SO appreciate political dialogue...and of course, I think it's ok to disagree. =) Without being "mad". =)

Marcy Faye Hallden said...

I agree with you on the population of Canada being only 33 million--I have often taken that into consideration. I have not had a "chronic" health problem, but have had several very close friends with serious things (mainly cancer) who have had SUPERB treatment in a VERY timely manner. It's definitely not a perfect system--that's for sure, but it's not as nomadic as Fox News would have many Americans to believe--far, far from that. There are problems to every system, but if you ask Canadians if they are happy with their healthcare or would prefer the American way, I would safely say the majority of Canadians are happy.

I am all for working hard and getting what you work for, but I can honestly say that I have shifted in my thoughts a bit on this. I'm not saying we should hand out welfare cheques and not make people be responsible for their actions. We do pay for our healthcare via taxes up here--and actually, our taxes aren't that much more than in the states. It's not a "free" hand out from the gov. I don't know the exact stats, but would guess atleast 30-40% of Canadians don't pay taxes either. Until 2009, we paid a monthly premium of $88 for healthcare in Alberta, but at the beginning of the year, the gov. dropped that because our province was running a surplus budget.

I don't pretend to know the answers to Americans healthcare crisis, but that's what I believe it is. And any time we talk of maybe moving back there, all these horror stories of people I know--who are VERY hard working Americans, flash into my mind, and it makes me want to stay put.

I wish we could sit and chat over coffee sometime--it nice to "converse" with someone who is actuallyl educated on the topic. I really do enjoy hearing your perspective.

Nicole said...

Hey Marcy,

Thanks for your perspective. What can I say except that we disagree.

You don't know any Canadians who are unhappy with their health care and I don't know any Americans who haven't been able to get health care when they need it. They might have to pay for it (since when is this such an outrageous concept...that you pay for things you need..?), but they can get it.

I guess we see both sides of the coin. And, I think that's what we need...Americans thinking seriously about this issue and voicing their opinions. I am particularly excited about how many Americans are now learning how to speak up to their Representatives in Washington. We have long needed an issue that would get people out of their ignorant haze and encourage them to get involved. Perhaps this issue is it.

I agree that this conversation would be WAY better over coffee. Too bad Alberta and Iowa aren't any closer! =)