Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hole in Whole Foods' Heart?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, wrote an op-ed piece detailing his own prescription for fixing the health care crisis in America.

Mackey has some ideas that make sense, such as:

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.

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.

But then he comes up with this doozy:

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.

Unfortunately, private charity is not going to be enough to pay for health care the way it is in America now. What needs to happen, at the very least, is for the costs of insurance to come down so that individuals and businesses do not have a crippling financial burden.

Mackey evokes the “boogeyman” of “socialized medicine”:

All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Which is not true – take it from a Canadian doctor, Michael M. Rachlis, who wrote his own piece in the Los Angeles Times. And if “socialized medicine” is such a nightmare, why is France (whose system is a combination of public and private options) ranked number one among industrialized nations in health care?

And then Mackey takes this tack:

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.

We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.

In other words, let them eat organic apples.

If Mackey has forgotten those of us who

1. have congenital (from-birth) diseases, hereditary diseases, or diseases that appeared in our childhood without warning,

2. have felt the scourge of cancer due to no personal behavior but because of the toxins floating around in our environment,

3. have received one of those sudden personal injuries, whether in the car or on the sidewalk or in the home, which are just as debilitating as illness,

then he is a fool. If he has deliberately ignored them in order to further his campaign against “socialized medicine”, then he is craven. It is tragically easy to ignore real-world problems when you sit in the throne of the CEO of a highly profitable corporation. It’s too bad Mackey hasn’t learned this lesson from Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t expect him to pay for my health care, but I am furious that people like him, who oppose true reform, might stand in the way of my being able to afford my own.

Already, the call to boycott Whole Foods is coming loud and clear. Mackey is out of step with the people who shop at Whole Foods, most of whom are progressive, caring, and more-than-ready for a change in the way we do health care.

I would also join the effort, loud and clear, except –

I have a brother and sister and brother-in-law who work at Whole Foods.

If the boycott has a measurable financial effect, who do you think is going to feel the sting first? John Mackey, or the average worker trying to feed a family or save money for college?

This is a situation that is grayer than it seems. Should we temper our righteous political anger with tangible personal concerns?

Let’s all think about it.

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