Whole Foods Eyes Discounts for Healthy Staff

A post in Freakonomics spurs conversation over the recent discount plan Whole Foods plans to offer its healthier employees.  John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, has not been shy in expressing his own “health” based reforms to lower the cost of health care in the United States.  In August, he posted an op-ed entitled The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare that advocated moving towards individual empowerment and away from government control over health care.

Mackey then goes on to blame American citizens for our health care problems.  Self-inflicted poor health leads to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.  These diseases account for close to 70% of all health care spending.  Eating healthier will of course help counteract the high occurrences of these diseases, lower health care costs, and also promote shopping at Whole Foods.  Whole Foods is the largest organic and natural market in the U.S. and thus the health food headquarters for many Americans. 

The article entitled Whole Foods Eyes Discounts for Healthy Staff explains  Mackey’s plans to offer greater Whole Foods shopping discounts to employees who exhibit healthier lifestyles based upon blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and smoking status.  It is an innovative and clever plan to combat the high care spending on those health related diseases mentioned above.  Mackey describes the new plan here, “These new higher discounts are incentives to encourage our team members to be healthier and to lower our healthcare costs. We believe this is a win-win programme that will help both our team members and our shareholders.”   This program certainly would help some employees maintain their health and keep health care expenses down to appease shareholders.  But what about the employees  that were not genetically given a slim body-type?

Mackey defends his program by claiming, “the company was not taking anything away from workers who chose not to participate.”  But choosing to participate is not always the problem.  Many people simply have genes that give them high blood pressure or heavy-set bodies.  Or perhaps certain physical disabilities might prevent some employees from regular exercise regiments.  BMI can also be misleading to a person’s health, as tall or muscular people with very little can be technically considered overweight or obese.  Many world-class athletes, such as the NFL élite running back Adrian Peterson, are obese by BMI.  These factors make this whole discount program very discriminatory and unfair. Whole Foods will likely attract and reward healthier employees, while the less fit employees are the ones who could use the discounts.  It has been largely proven that obesity corresponds to poverty, as less wealthy people cannot afford the pricier healthy foods and turn to fast-food for many meals.

I’m sure Mackey is not intending to discriminate against those with poor health (and potentially less wealth), but his program is definitely motivated by profit gains.  If health care programs like this catch on at other companies (as it already has at Safeway Markets) across the U.S., then many Americans may stop by Whole Foods for their groceries in search of a healthier diet.  What if the U.S. health care system were to one day reform to include such a health promoting plan?

Mackey has found a way to cut health care costs, potentially gain income, and look like a hero.  This hero title is of course in reference to promoting good health with the possibility of discriminations aside.  To improve the program and eliminate the unfairness, discounts could be given based upon health improvements.   For instance, a heavier employee could gain discounts once his cholesterol or BMI decrease by a certain percentage.  There is definitely room for improvement in Mackey’s discount program for the good of the entire U.S. population, but it’s fairly ingenious how he has thought to save health care expenses while promoting his establishment.


One Response

  1. What Mackey has failed to realize in his health care reform idea is the fact that health foods in general cost way more then the dollar menu at McDonalds. What is a low income family going to worry about more, putting clothes on their backs or eating locally grown non-pesticide carrots at 5 dollars a pound? Mackey’s ideas, although well founded, are extremely progressive and unrealistic.

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