Whole Foods CEO Defends Health Insurance Views, His Right to Speak, in New WSJ Interview
Treehugger has been closely following the saga of Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey since he published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying, among other things, that "A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter." Many felt outraged that the leader of a company that is often viewed as a leader of a new more sustainable business model would take such a draconian view on health care, and they expressed their disapproval with boycotts and protests. But Mackey is a thoughtful guy, as demonstrated in a new Wall Street Journal interview, and his views on health care reform are more complex than they may first appear.Mackey, in his roles as a business leader and citizen, said he wrote the op-ed to take up President Obama on his call for "constructive suggestions for health-care reform." He put forward eight suggestions for reform, including leveling the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance are treated the same; repealing laws that prevent insurance companies from selling policies over state lines; and tort law reform.
Whole Foods covers every employee who works more than 30 hours a week with a high deductible plan that doesn't not cover pre existing conditions until after one year of enrollment. The plan features a health saving account that employees can contribute to tax free that rolls over from year to year.
Mackey's stance on government run health care seems to flow not from a "government is the enemy" ideology, but instead from concerns over increased national debt and government spending. One aspect of the health care debate that has been taboo but that will certainly lower costs is the idea of personal responsibility in regards to eating and exercise, a topic Mackey takes on:
"A healthy diet is a solution to many of our health-care problems. It's the most important solution. How much sugar do you think Americans consume?" he asks. I shrug and he rattles off the statistics: "Every man, woman and child consumes, on average, 43 teaspoons of sugar a day. In 13 days that adds up to a five-pound bag of sugar."
"We can spend all the money we want on bypass surgeries, chemotherapy and diabetes, but . . . two-thirds [of Americans] are overweight, one-third are obese." He's on a roll: "And it's not that they have to shop at a Whole Foods Market. But people need to eat whole food plant foods, primarily . . . whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. That diet supports our lives. We ought to live to be 90 or 100 without getting any diseases."
In the interview, Mackey also touches on his views about the role of business in a democracy:
Whole Foods has many earth-friendly policies like not selling products made with palm oil (made from drained peatlands in tropical forests) and corn syrup, hosting a big time recycling and composting program, and not using GMOs in its store brand.
"I think that business has a noble purpose. It's not that there's anything wrong with making money. It's one of the important things that business contributes to society. But it's not the sole reason that businesses exist."
What does he mean by a "noble purpose"? "It means that just like every other profession, business serves society. They produce goods and services that make people's lives better. Doctors heal the sick. Teachers educate people. Architects design buildings. Lawyers promote justice. Whole Foods puts food on people's tables and we improve people's health."
Then he adds: "And we provide jobs. And we provide capital through profits that spur improvements in the world. And we're good citizens in our communities, and we take our citizenship very seriously at Whole Foods."
I for one welcome Mackey's views on health care reform. As the leader of a company with over 280 stores and a long track record of success, he has a right to express his views without the threat of retribution. In a healthy democracy, we must have a constructive exchange of ideas, not shouts and threats. I hope other business leaders, citizens, and policymakers continue to contribute to the public dialogue on health insurance reform and are not dissuaded from speaking out after the treatment that Mackey has received.