Whole Foods CEO and self-styled libertarian John Mackey came under fire this week for suggesting that Obamacare is “like fascism” during a recent NPR interview. He has partially retracted that statement, clarifying that he did not intend to compare the landmark reform law to the oppressive and violent policies of Nazi-era Germany. But he also stood by his central premise that Obamacare is an affront to the ideals of “free enterprise capitalism” in the American health care industry, lamenting that it isn’t closer to the Swiss health care system, which Mackey holds up as a model for the nation.
In an editorial for the Huffington Post, Mackey laid out his prescription for health care reform:
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.
I believe that health care should be competitive in the open market to promote innovation and creativity… There is an alternative to mandated health care in free enterprise capitalism based on voluntary exchange for mutual gain. This alternative allows individuals and businesses to innovate and develop customized solutions to health care where a “one size fits all approach” fails. Creativity and progress are stifled when government regulations dictate the parameters of what health care plans can be offered. Creative businesses, and the people who work them, can make something that has value for all stakeholders.
But perhaps Mackey should have studied the Swiss system a little closer before placing it on a pedestal. The European nation’s health care scheme requires everybody to purchase health insurance from a private, competitive market, provides Swiss citizens who cannot afford their own coverage with government subsidies, and mandates minimal coverage levels in health plans while limiting how much insurers can profit off of their customers. Obamacare is, in large part, modeled off of that exact system.
The similarities don’t end there. But Mackey wasn’t all wrong. The Swiss health care system does have some important differences with Obamacare — namely, a much more tightly regulated private insurance market that, unlike Obamacare, must negotiate its prices and premiums with the government, and employers play close to a non-existent role in providing health benefits for their workers, making the system more efficient.
One medical journal article classified the Swiss system as “a variant of the highly government-regulated social insurance systems of Europe… that rely on ostensibly private, nonprofit health insurers that also are subject to uniform fee schedules and myriad government regulations.” By Mackey’s standards, though, that sure doesn’t sound like “free enterprise capitalism.”