What began as a series of interviews to promote a new book seems to have turned into something else for Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.
Mackey, whose new book “Conscious Capitalism” asserts that companies must have a higher purpose than just generating money, has long been a critic of the president’s Affordable Care Act. He took that criticism a step further this week in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep where he said he believes Obamacare is “more like fascism.”
Mackey has since walked the comment back a bit, but Mike Barnicle and Mark Halperin began their interview with Mackey by asking him if he thought his comments would have any impact on Whole Foods’ business. Whole Foods, a natural and organic grocery store, has more than 340 retail outlets and did $11.7B in sales in fiscal year 2012, per the company Web site.
“Does anything happen to your base because of that remark?," Barnicle asked.
"It's a little early to tell, but I don't think it will hurt sales. When we had health care controversy back in 2009 because of the Wall Street Journal op-ed, sales actually went up. A lot of people get upset, but this is America. There's a lot of diversity in opinions and that's what makes for a vital democracy," Mackey said.
At the time, some shoppers took umbrage with Mackey's op-ed and began boycotting the company.
Other U.S. companies have also been critical of the president's health care plan, which requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer health care for its full-time workers. Some of these businesses have responded by hiring more part-time workers.
Now, what does Mackey truly want for health care? His latest Huffington Post column elaborates.
I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States.
During his Morning Joe discussion, Mackey noted that Whole Foods offers employees health care coverage, although one must work at 30 hours to be eligible.
“Every team member that works for the company that works 30 hours or more—which is 75%—is automatically enrolled in our health insurance plan. We pay their premiums. It’s a high-deductible plan, they have to get past a deductible of about $3,000, but we deposit about $1,800 in a personal wellness account for them to use toward their deductible…We let our team members vote on it every three years; we take morale surveys. Our health care plan is very popular with our team member base.”
The one seeming discrepancy between what Mackey said on air and what he wrote in his 2009 column is that, in the column, he writes that Whole Foods contributes "up to $1,800" and not just a flat amount of $1,800. The Whole Foods benefits page seems to corroborate this.
Either way, Mackey says he doesn't believe the government "should overly dominate things." However, he declined answering Halperin's perhaps less-than-subtle question of whether or not Obamacare is going to destroy America.
"That’s a pretty loaded question. I think I’ll avoid that one," Mackey responded.