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Whole-Grain Health Reform

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Now is the time for all good capitalists to shop at Whole Foods.

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Not only will you get great produce, fresh meat, fish and healthy to-go meals, but you'll irritate those who think that President Obama's health-care plan isn't quite progressive enough.

It seems that John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market -- green missionary and exemplar of corporate compassion -- has riled hard-core reformers by endorsing free-market principles over government-managed health care.

Well, knock me over with a wakame frond. (That's seaweed for you tofu-averse.)

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Mackey not only insisted that personal responsibility and choice are preferable to bureaucratic dispensation of health benefits, he went so far as to assert that health care isn't a right, any more than food or shelter are.

Mackey went on to list alternative policy reforms that would improve our health-care system (and maybe even our health). His ideas include repealing state laws to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines; tort reform to end "ruinous lawsuits" that force doctors to pay exorbitant insurance premiums that drive up the cost of health care; Medicare reform; and revision of tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned insurance carry the same tax benefits.

He urged removing legal obstacles to allow creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts such as those that his employees enjoy.

Supporters of Obama's massive health-care overhaul have declared Mackey an apostate (take a number, honey), and are calling for a boycott of his stores.

If you're unlucky enough to live in a city or state without a Whole Foods store, you may not be able to fully appreciate the deliciousness of this little food fight. When it comes to corporate responsibility, Mackey has few peers. His company's core values read like a Happy Face Manifesto, pledging allegiance to sustainability, caring about our communities and environment, even "delighting our customers." But also -- brace yourself -- "creating wealth through profits & growth."

Is there room in a post-compassionate-conservative nation for a caring capitalist?

Whole Foods, as the name suggests, is what we used to call a "health food store," though Mackey's creation feels relatively mainstream compared to the early granola boutiques that made you feel like you have to assume the lotus position to gain entrance. The company's focus is on whole foods rather than those (processed by man -- white bread, chips, cookies) with sweeteners, preservatives, trans fats and artificial additives.

Abundant research has established the link between processed foods and weight gain. As Mackey points out, most of our degenerative diseases, and therefore our exorbitant health costs, could be reduced with better diet. In the United States, two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese. Fifteen percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight, as are 10 percent of those ages 2 to 5.

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