The Whole Foods Health Care Plan: A Good Idea

Whole Foods-MergerOne of my favorite journalists, John Stossel, did a post about health care that had a very interesting story about Whole Foods and their employer plan.  Below is an excerpt from his story:

Insurance: The Whole Foods Experiment

I asked Whole Foods founder John Mackey what would happen if his customers bought groceries the same way most of them buy health care. “We’d make a lot more money. Instead of buying a bottle of wine for $7.99, they might buy a $300 bottle of wine.”

Yet this is how we pay for health care? “I know, it’s ridiculous.”

Mackey knows that when people shop around, costs go down. So seven years ago, faced with skyrocketing health insurance costs, Whole Foods decided to offer its employees high-deductible insurance — the kind Mark Horn has. If workers get cancer or heart disease, insurance pays, but for things like physicals and flu shots, employees pay. Whole Foods even helps employees meet those costs by contributing to a special “health savings account.” Because the savings accounts belong to the employees, they shop around before spending the money.

And what happened to the company’s bottom line after implementing the new insurance plan? “Our costs went way down,” Mackey says, because “people started asking what things cost.”

Whole Foods employees liked the system so much, they voted overwhelmingly to keep it.

When Whole Foods marketing director Mary Ann Buttros went to the doctor, she never used to ask, “‘How much will this cost?’ Because it didn’t matter,” she says. “And now it matters to me because it’s my money.”

The Whole Foods experiment works because it makes people care about costs. But because most Americans with health insurance expect someone else to pay, shopping around is harder than it should be.

Wow.  If a left leaning company like Whole Foods can create a good option like this, why not expand the idea?

To me, this seems like a major part of our problem when dealing with health insurance.  We have been conditioned to simply go in to the doctor, pay the co-payment amount, and never think about the actual cost.  I’m as guilty as anyone else when visiting the doctor and displaying this type of behavior.  I don’t ask the cost of the visit, procedure, etc. as I am not forced to as a part of my insurance plan.  But what if things changed with my plan?  I would be glad to take a more active approach when it might come out of my pocket.

It was not that long ago that we went to the doctor, paid the bill (yes, paid the bill) and then billed the insurance company for the service.  By simply doing this we would cut down on unnecessary visits to the doctor and thus cut the overall cost of health care.  If we would further ask questions about the cost of our healthcare, I’ll bet my meager paycheck that costs would go down. 

I was in Canada this week on business.  I travel to the great white north (not white yet, but I like the movie) a couple of times a year.  I had dinner with a friend who happens to be a chiropractor and asked her about the health care system in Canada.  I’ve known for some time that the Canadian socialized health care system has had to eliminate most services outside of hospital and medical doctors visits to reduce costs.   Things we take for granted like dental care, optometry and chiropractic care, just to name a few.  This has actually been a great thing for those professionals as they have started to really educate their patients on the value of their services.  The friend I mentioned operates a cash only practice and sees a whole host of patients – young, old and everyone in between.  She has taken the time to actually educate her patients on the benefits of her care.  She is able to cut out the BS and red tape required to deal with the government like Medicare and insurance companies.  Instead of hiring someone to just bill insurance (like what happens in the US), she is able to keep that money in her pocket.  (Yes, I know she is in Canada but go with the example.)

I don’t have answers on the health care menagerie, but I don’t think that our elected officials do either.  Maybe we can start with the huddled masses and actually educate them on their health care and expenses.  Just a thought.

Of course, this is just my opinion.

Rob’s Rant