High-Income Hippies Crunch Whole Foods Health Insurance

I needed a good chuckle this morning, and this article on the fallout from Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey’s views on health care reform in The Washington Post delivered just fine.  The high-income hippies that shop at Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI) are having conniptions after learning that the “highest quality natural and organic products” they have been consuming are laced with libertarianism.  At issue is this op-ed Mackey wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal about the way health insurance is provided to employees of Whole Foods and his suggestions for how national health reform should proceed.  If you work at Whole Foods, here is how you get health insurance:

Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan’s costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

If the high-income hippies quoted in the Post article took a step back, they would see that full coverage for at most $700 out of pocket expenses a year is a pretty generous benefit plan and the combination of a high-deductible plan and an HSA is an economical way to provide it.  Employees are taken care of, just as self-styled progressives shopping there would expect from the company’s carefully cultivated brand.  What’s got them enraged is Mackey’s statement about whether health care is an intrinsic right:

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.

Call me crazy, but that’s basically the way I see things, too.  It’s enough to make high-income hippies cough up their crudites.  Having a libertarian running Whole Foods is almost as delicious as it was having The New York Times charge for its columnists.

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About Andrew Samwick 89 Articles

Affiliation: Dartmouth College

Andrew Samwick is a professor of economics and Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

He is most widely known for his work on the economics of retirement, and his scholarly work has covered a range of topics, including pensions, saving, taxation, portfolio choice, and executive compensation.

In July 2003, Samwick joined the staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, serving for a year as its chief economist and helping to direct the work of about 20 economists in support of the three Presidential appointees on the Council.

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2 Comments on High-Income Hippies Crunch Whole Foods Health Insurance

  1. Trader Joe’s treats their employees much better (paying health insurance for part timers and providing a retirement pension) I’ll leave Whole Foods for the rich hippies. I’m merely a simple hippie.

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