The National Catholic Review

 

I was both surprised and chagrined to see the reaction against the views expressed in an Op Ed piece in the Wall St. Journal on Aug. 12, 2009:“The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare” by John Mackey, co-founder and C.E.O. of Whole Foods Market Inc. The opinion has ignited a boycott, or at least strong talk of one, by some people on the left. I thought liberals, by definition, were attuned to a marketplace-of-ideas approach. Hence my surprise.  The reason for my chagrin is that our nation is now engaged in a civic discussion on health care reform, where all sorts of different viewpoints, expressed civilly and with some command of the facts, should be welcome. Civility is a virtue without a party.  While I myself do not agree with much of what Mr. Mackey espoused (like the Thatcher quote about “socialism,” and the other buzz words dropped in to get unsuspecting people riled up—“new entitlement” “a government takeover of our health-care system” and more), his piece was in other respects seriously argued. It gave an interesting example of how Whole Foods provides health insurance and also subsidizes health savings accounts for its employees; it made eight counterproposals; it expressed the author’s philosophy about the root causes of poor health and the links between good food, good health and the responsibility of adults to make good choices (I strongly agree with Mackey’s responsibility point).  Since Mr. Mackey’s proposals deserve discussion, I’ll begin with his suggestion that the IRS make it easier for taxpayers to make a tax-deductible donation to support “the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”  I had independently come up with a somewhat similar notion in “3 Wild Ideas re Health Care,” my August 10th blog. There I recommended adding a donation box on the IRS tax form by which filers could give $1 specifically to health care. It was an undeveloped brainstorm, but I thought of it as a way to raise some money and create grassroots support for health care—a national priority. Mr. Mackey he didn’t limit his thinking to a check-off box. And he left the donation amount open-ended, stressed that it be tax-deductible and allocated strictly for the uninsured. I would support Mr. Mackey’s idea, and would hope taxpayers would be generous if given such a chance. My only stipulation (and here Mr. Mackey and I may diverge widely) is that such a charitable donation must not be the sole or primary method by which nearly 46 million uninsured people in our country (35,920 of whom are American citizens according to the U.S. Census Bureau) would be covered.  In my view, health insurance must be required if it is to be universal and fair. Elsewhere (see my blog “Collision Insurance for Health Care”) I have drawn an analogy between the requirement for auto liability insurance and the proposed requirement for health insurance. To see how well Mr. Mackey’s idea would work for the uninsured, let’s apply it to the case of car owners: Forget the required liability insurance; any driver who wished to could go without it. Mr. Mackey wants “to move toward less government control and more individual empowerment.” So what would happen when an uninsured driver got into a car accident? Well, the only money at hand would come from charity—from those good souls who made a tax-deductible donation especially to help out uninsured car owners. How well do you think that would work as public policy? If you had no health insurance, is this how you would want coverage for yourself and your family? 

 

I was both surprised and chagrined to see the reaction against the views expressed in an Op Ed piece in the Wall St. Journalon Aug. 12, 2009:“The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare” by John Mackey, co-founder and C.E.O. of Whole Foods Market Inc. The opinion has ignited a boycott, or at least strong talk of one, by some people on the left. I thought liberals, by definition, were attuned to a marketplace-of-ideas approach. Hence my surprise. 

The reason for my chagrin is that our nation is now engaged in a civic discussion on health care reform, where all sorts of different viewpoints, expressed civilly and with some command of the facts, should be welcome. Civility is a virtue without a party. 

While I myself do not agree with much of what Mr. Mackey espoused (like the Thatcher quote about “socialism,” and the other buzz words dropped in to get unsuspecting people riled up: “new entitlement” “a government takeover of our health-care system” and more), his piece was in other respects seriously argued. It gave an interesting example of how Whole Foods provides health insurance and also subsidizes health savings accounts for its employees; it made eight counterproposals; it expressed the author’s philosophy about the root causes of poor health and the links between good food, good health and the responsibility of adults to make good choices (I strongly agree with Mackey’s responsibility point). 

Since Mr. Mackey’s proposals deserve discussion, I’ll discuss his suggestion that the IRS make it easier for taxpayers to make a tax-deductible donation to support “the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.” I had independently come up with a somewhat similar notion in “3 Wild Ideas re Health Care,” my August 10th blog. There I recommended adding a donation box on the IRS tax form by which filers could give $1 specifically to health care. It was an undeveloped brainstorm, but I thought of it as a way to raise some money and create grassroots support for health care—a national priority. Mr. Mackey he didn’t limit his thinking to a check-off box. And he left the donation amount open-ended, stressed that it be tax-deductible and allocated strictly for the uninsured. I would support Mr. Mackey’s idea, and would hope taxpayers would be generous if given such a chance. My only stipulation (and here Mr. Mackey and I may diverge widely) is that such a charitable donation must not be the sole or primary method by which nearly 46 million uninsured people in our country (35,920 of whom are American citizens according to the U.S. Census Bureau) would be covered. 

In my view, health insurance must be required if it is to be universal and fair. Elsewhere I have drawn an analogy between the requirement for auto liability insurance and the proposed requirement for health insurance (my blog “Collision Insurance for Health Care”). To see how well Mr. Mackey’s idea would work for the uninsured, let’s apply it to the case of car owners: Forget the required liability insurance; any driver who wished to could go without it. Mr. Mackey wants “to move toward less government control and more individual empowerment.” So what would happen when an uninsured driver got into a car accident? Well, the only money at hand would come from charity—from those good souls who made a tax-deductible donation especially to help out uninsured car owners. How well do you think that would work as public policy? If you had no health insurance, is this how you would want coverage for yourself and your family? 

 

 

Comments

Anonymous | 8/25/2009 - 4:23pm
Goyo,
Your trust in coprorations is probably greater than mine.  By the way there are statistics that indicate that medical expenses are one of the prime causes of pesonal bankruptcy, even for those with some coverage.  And since unemployment is nearing 10%, and likely to be there for a long time, the dependence of most Americans on employer provided health insurance is a real problem.
I hear a great deal about how Democrats and progressives are mindlessly infatuated with Obama's charisma.  The reality might be more complicated.  Obama is getting a good deal of criticism from the left for not being more forceful on health care, for pursuing the war in Afganistan, and for not seeking criminal investigations of the authors of the torture interrogation policy (the current invesitgations mostly will examine the interrogators-not the policy makers).  Whether or not you think this criticism is correct or stunningly wrongheaded, it does not amount to blind Obama worship.
Anonymous | 8/25/2009 - 12:17pm
JJ, 
It sounds like you are blaming John Mackey for coming up with really workable solutions in his own company absent government-imposed solutions. 
That 47 million figure is misleading, besides. Pundits and the press keep throwing it around without breaking down the numbers. A good number of people are eligible for government aid and aren't enrolled and many can afford and don't purchase-these surely aren't people longing for the kindness of corporations.
And where does this statist talk come from anyhow? Is it a problem that millions more Americans depend upon the kindness of corporations for jobs? Perhaps the government could provide all the jobs, too. Or for food? Perhaps the government could try that, too. Or for education? OH WAIT. The government does provide that. And the government does that so well, right? And I'm not so sure that the facile claim about dependable care in other advanced nations cuts the mustard. Closer scrutiny will reveal many problems. I wouldn't want to end up in an emergency room in the UK or have to have a major and complicated surgery in Canada.
I don't necessarily agree with everything Mackey says or does. But he offered a reasonable and measured set of proposals to the debate. Oh wait, debate is only allowed when the GOP is in power. In the meantime, let's all become drones for Obama's charisma.
Anonymous | 8/24/2009 - 9:40pm
From the looks of what Whole Foods just served up as health care reform and from the smell coming off the stew that Congress is cooking up, 47 million plus-plus-plus people will continue to depend on the kindness of corporations.
Other advanced countries worked out a means of dependable health care as far back as Bismarck.  Hasn't US capitalism fiddled around long enough?  Why should we listen to the masters of the universe any longer?
As for income tax check offs, consider how far the income tax check off for the government funding of elections has taken us.