mr. whole foods is nearly wholly wrong

Via Flickr user
Via Flickr user

I am the kind of person who reads The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  The kind of person who watches “King Corn” and “Food, Inc.”  The type of person who pays $5 for a carton of eggs because I can buy them within walking distance and they were raised locally and humanely.  The type of person who gets excited about a baby eggplant in the garden.  The type of person who shops at farmers’ markets and Whole Foods and Earth Fare.  The type who carries around a stainless steel water bottle and uses her own bags at the store and even has a reusable wrapper for the sandwiches she packs for lunch.

I’m also the kind of person for whom health care was a major issue in the last election.  The kind of person who worked very hard to elect Barack Obama precisely because I liked his health care proposals.  The kind of person who cried on election night with joy and pride.  The kind of person who cried on inauguration day with joy and pride.  The kind of person who really doesn’t understand how so many people can act like health reform is such a surprise when it was so clearly laid out before the election, and American VOTED FOR THE GUY who proposed it.

Apparently the CEO of Whole Foods doesn’t understand that the majority of his customers are people like me.

So he wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal opposing most of President Obama’s health care plan.  And he pissed off a lot of Progressives, who are now overwhelming Whole Foods’ website with complaints.

But I knew that we (being those of us in favor of health care reform and of the mind that America supported this idea when it elected Barack Obama) might have trouble when my husband mentioned that he had read the editorial and thought the guy made some good points.  So.  I’m taking it upon myself to refute some of those points, because I don’t want to see this gaining any traction.  The quoted portions are John Mackey, and the rest is my response.

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.

Mackey misunderstands that deficits are precisely the reason we need health care reform, of the sort President Obama has proposed, NOW. Health care spending is out of control. It’s strangling our economy, and we have to get a handle on it. President Obama has repeatedly stressed that he will not sign any health care bill that is not budget neutral, that is, he won’t sign a bill if it’s going to worsen the deficit. He has also said that cost control is a huge priority. President Obama:

[I]f somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that’s guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that.

Well, that’s status quo. That’s what we have right now.

So if we don’t change, we can’t expect a different result. And that’s why I think this is so important, not only for those families out there who are struggling, and who need some protection from abuses in the insurance industry, or need some protection from skyrocketing costs, but it’s also important for our economy.

And, by the way, it’s important for a family’s wages and incomes. One of the things that doesn’t get talked about is the fact that, when premiums are going up and the cost to employers are going up, that’s money that could be going into people’s wages and incomes.

And over the last decade, we basically saw middle-class families, their income and wages flat-lined. Part of the reason is because health care costs are gobbling that up.

In fact, a Congressional Budget Office report on the bill currently moving through the House found that the proposed reform “is deficit neutral over the 10-year budget window – and even produces a $6 billion surplus.”  Back to Mackey’s op ed.

Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.

I actually agree here in that I don’t think health coverage should be tied to employment. No one should lose their insurance just because they lose their job, because this makes them doubly vulnerable. However, until there is more competition in the market and I can get a policy from someone other than Blue Cross and Blue Shield, this would basically be a corporate tax break: handing over all the people who currently have employer-provided insurance to the super-concentrated market where they will pay higher premiums than they do now, and will have little choice in who they pay them to. Back to Mackey.

Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.

Ah yes, deregulation for the health insurance industry, because it worked so well with finance. Back to Mackey.

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

Really? This shocks me. Like my insurance company would EVER pay for anything it doesn’t have to. And if i don’t like what they’ve got, I have no alternative. I can’t say, well, you won’t cover my breast cancer, so I’ll go get another policy. In South Carolina, Blue Cross is all I could get! And at this point, if I discover I have a condition that my current provider won’t cover, it’s not like I can get a new policy even if I could find a new provider– because I’d now have a “pre-existing condition.” Anyone who would support this idea has never actually needed healthcare and had to haggle with their insurer to get coverage. I couldn’t even get routine allergy testing without haggling for coverage. Back to Mackey.

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.

Though this is a common argument among conservatives and physicians’ groups, the stats aren’t on their side. As Sen. Claire McCaskill noted in her town hall meeting this week, citing Florida, a state that has actually passed aggressive tort reform: “In Florida their health care costs have risen faster than almost any place else in the country even with tort reform. So, I think it is being sold by someone out there as a cure all, but where it hasn’t worked to bring down health care costs.” And via Think Progress:

In 2004, the CBO (.pdf) “pegged medical malpractice costs at 2 percent of U.S. health spending” and found that “’even significant reductions’ would do little to reduce the growth of health-care expenses.”

To put it even more clearly, Harvard economist Amitabh Chandra says costs related to malpractice suits are a “drop in the bucket” and found in a 2005 study (.pdf) that these amount to about $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, whereas we spend $2.3 trillion total in health care annually.  So yes, we would save some money, but it would not be “significant” in the scope of total health care spending and should not be sold as something that would save a lot of money for consumers.  Back to Mackey.

Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.

Yay, I agree! How? No suggestions?

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.

Ah yes, this is the only place where Mackey even begins to touch THE MAJOR REASON WE NEED HEALTH REFORM: 47 MILLION AMERICANS DO NOT HAVE HEALTH COVERAGE. And his big solution is “hope rich guys like me donate some money to help them out?” Pitiful.

However, perhaps the most disturbing thing to me is that Mackey doesn’t believe that health care is a human right. He says:

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

Really? Because I think every American has a right to food, shelter, health care, AND a basic education. And I think the founders’ support for universal, free public education is as good as any indication that they would have supported universal health care. If health coverage had existed at the time of the writing of our founding documents, I really do imagine they’d have included it. Instead, they talked about “promoting the General Welfare,” which seems to cover health to me.

I’ll let Ezra Klein explain:

Food is more like health care than it is like cable television. We worry if people don’t have enough food to eat. We worry quite a lot, in fact. So we have a variety of programs meant to ensure that people have sufficient food. If you don’t have much money, you rely on these programs. As of September 2008, about 11 percent of the population was on food stamps. It’s probably somewhat higher now. Millions more rely on the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and reduced-price school lunches.

The insight that people need food has not led us to simply deregulate the agricultural sector (though that might be a good idea for other reasons) or change the tax treatment of food purchases or make it easier for rich people to donate to food banks, which is what Mackey recommends for health care. It’s led us to solve, or try and solve, the problem directly by giving people money to buy food. And that works. These programs, as every Whole Foods shopper knows, haven’t grown to encompass the whole population or set prices in grocery stores. If you have more money, you shop for food on your own. And if you have a lot of money, you shop at Mackey’s stores. That’s pretty much the model we’re looking at in this iteration of health-care reform. We’re also laying down some rules so grocery stores — excuse me, health insurers — can’t simply refuse to sell you their product, or take it away after it’s already been purchased.

And then Mackey ends with scare quotes about “long lines and scant service” in countries like Canada and Britain. Both of these nations are higher ranked on the quality of their health care by the World Health Organization than we are. And his source on the number of Canadians waiting for care is dubious at best. He cites Investors Business Daily, the same right wing business rag that just this week said Stephen Hawking would be deemed worthless and left to die in Britain, FORGETTING THAT HE IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN BRITISH.

His conclusion is a plug that everyone eat better, like the people who shop at Whole Foods. This is a great idea, except it’s probably better discussed the next time the Farm Bill is up for review. It’d be great if we could stick to health reform for now.

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