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Point by Point Rebuttal to John Mackey

August 22, 2009

The writers of PLS have been kind enough to give me a shot here as a guest blogger. I recently made a post about Mr. Mackey’s comments regarding the Obama administration’s attempt to reform healthcare. You can read the original post at my blog, What the Fuck?

My original post was going to be a review of District 9. I’ve been forced to delay that for a more pressing issue. I was recently given a link to a letter about healthcare reform by John Mackey, Founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. It makes, by my count, nine points against having a public option.

1. Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of High-Deductible Health Insurance Plans and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

At first glance, High-Deductible Insurance Plans seem like a fair way to bring down healthcare costs. The insurance company only pays for large medical needs, were you to be in a devastating accident of some sort. Also, in most plans, your contribution does not exceed $3000 per year. However, herein lies the rub. You are left paying for your prescriptions the entire year, as well as for any minor doctor visit. The only incentive this offers is for patients not to see their doctors nor take their medication when they are sick. Otherwise they’re left holding the large bill. A High-Deductible Health Plan is beneficial to those who are young and healthy (with a dash of luck that you won’t develop some “rare” chronic disorder, such as asthma) and those who are wealthy enough that they can pay for their own medications and don’t want high premiums (or taxes). Most people spend much more money on an HDI than on a more traditional plan, and suggesting that healthcare’s answer lies in a blind cost-cutting maneuver by insurance companies is irresponsible and unwise.

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

Mr. Mackey’s sole reasoning for this is that it is unfair for people who buy their own health insurance rather than get it through their employers have to pay a higher tax on their insurance. I disagree.

People who buy their own health insurance are often in a much higher tax bracket, for those are the people who can afford their own medication in exchange for low premiums. This country is not, nor has it been in nearly 90 years, a capitalist economy. It is a social capitalist economy. That means societal safety nets, such as Medicaid, which are funded largely by tax money of the top 1%. It makes sense to not tax people who get their health insurance through their employer. These are the people who need expendable cash if the economy is going to recover. But to the top 1% who feel they are being unfairly taken advantage of because of their hard work: Cry me a river.

Do you really, honestly believe that a CEO of a multi-billion-dollar corporation has worked any harder in his life than a janitor? Or had any more of an impact on society than a teacher? Wealth does not measure your importance, superiority, or penis. It measures how well you played the game combined with how lucky you got combined with how lucky you were to begin with. It’s more or less a craps shoot. So if you win that lottery of privilege and opportunity and hard work, you should really be more gracious with your good fortune, rather than clutching it to your heart with a miser’s grasp.

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

A recent study has shown that the concept of freeing up trade between states for health insurance would result in millions losing coverage due to skyrocketed premiums. In essence, what would occur is that the health insurance companies in the states with the fewest regulations would steamroll all competition in states that have stricter regulations. With no real competition, the strongest remaining insurance companies would have the power to insure only the healthy and have the ability to drop you as soon as you get sick.

When will we wake up and remember that Enron, Bernie Madoff, and every other financial clusterfuck was due to the loosening of financial regulations over the past decade and a half? The same people who accuse the government of instituting “death panels” will blow a shit gasket if we asked to look into all of their numbers. I’m sorry to Adam Smith, Ron Paul, and even Ayn Rand, but the answer to health care reform is NOT less government. Someone needs to watch out for the rest of us.

4. Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.


5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

From what I understand, the malpractice issue is a talking point that is overblown and oversimplified when the insurance landscape is on the verge of being forced to change. Either way, here is a piece by William M. Sage (who possesses both an M.D and a J.D.) that may shed more light on it than Mr. Mackey’s opinion that “these costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.”

6. Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what healthcare treatments cost.

I’m tired of the concept of treating healthcare like any other good or service. It’s not. You can’t treat your body like your car and say one day, “hell, time to scrap it.” Just like you can’t say, “I’ll get the liver done now, but I have to wait on the cholesterol medication.” Health care is intrinsically more urgent than the market can dictate. Additionally, what do you cut out when you itemize your doctor’s bill? I don’t know about Mr. Mackey, but if the doctor says I need a test, I undergo the test. If the doctor says I need a medication to get better, I take that medication. I do this because I hardly feel I have the medical experience required to determine whether or not I need antibiotics. For those out there who look at the price once the bill is sent, the shock is not over what tests they underwent or what medicines they took. They were there, they know what they did. It is over the COST of each individual treatment that they thought they were covered for.

Obviously rich.

Obviously rich.

7. Enact Medicare reform, “We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy.”

I completely agee with Mr. Mackey on this point. However, arguing against higher taxes on the rich and then saying that Medicare is going bankrupt is somewhat like standing next to a big pile of money, looking me right in the eye, and saying, “this pile of money keeps going down, we better just get rid of it,” as your hands shove fistfuls of dollars in your pockets as quickly as they can.

8. 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.

This is Mr. Mackey’s solution. “Lift taxes so that the top 1% can have more money and they will…. give it to charity.” I would like to take this moment to address those who give hundreds of thousands to charities to help themselves sleep at night: you cannot purchase any pardons for your sins and the only thing that can truly save you is to be honest with yourself. I’d also like to point out that people’s health insurance should not depend on what the rich feel like they’ll throw in for posterity’s sake.

9. “Health Care is not a Right in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.”

Once again, Mr. Mackey is absolutely correct. What he leaves out is that the Declaration of Independence refers only to white landowning men and the Constitution originally counted blacks as three fifths of a person. The Constitution can be changed. In fact it has been 27 times. Maybe it IS time for a 28th and it does not look like it will be an amendment against gay marriage any more. Why not do something wacky and add the right to healthcare or the right to be free from poverty?

I would like to at this point address any remaining arguments pre-emptively:

1. How are insurance companies supposed to compete with a government program?

Two examples come to mind: The Post Office and public schools. Both have run for a long time and both have significant private competitors. People, especially those at state universities, should realize this.

2. How can we cover 55 million people while we face a staggering national deficit?

Forget that the current healthcare scenario in this country is more expensive than that of any other industrialized nation. The government’s wasteful spending is not in healthcare initiatives. It’s in things like the WAR ON DRUGS and WAR ON TERROR.

3. What about “ADOLF” Obama’s DEATH PANELS and his NAZI AGENDA?

Grow Up.

For the record, I don’t actually believe we need an amendment that ensures a right to health care. It’s far too broad a statement, and to make it an amendment would undoubtedly result in more confusion. However, I think we need to agree as a nation that healthcare needs to be more fair than it has been. And more fair than Mr. Mackey’s suggestions.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 22, 2009 11:32 pm

    What Soviet Medicine Teaches Us

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