Lunch With D CEO: John C. Goodman

The president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis is out to privatize everything possible.

As we walk into the private dining room of the Park City Club, I’m temporarily rendered speechless by the spectacular view. Out of the tall 17th-floor windows is a sweeping bird’s-eye perspective of the city from the north—a very different take on the world than what I’m used to. 

John C. Goodman is a regular here, a member the club’s staff immediately recognizes. He’s also the head of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning think tank based in Dallas that’s dedicated to privatizing everything possible. For years, Goodman has been the go-to conservative expert on healthcare policy and a calm fixture on Fox News, often introduced as “the father of the Health Savings Account.”

Says Goodman of his political views: “You’ve got the bedroom and the boardroom. And I want the government out of both.”

He’s just back from Florida, where he has been doing some fundraising in advance of a policy plan he’ll soon be pushing nationwide as an alternative to Obamacare. He can’t get into the details yet, he says, but it will involve universal tax credits for health insurance, more flexible HSAs for everyone, and—something he hopes might bring some Democrats aboard—making Medicaid an option for anyone, while also opening the program up to private contractors.

We tell our waiter that we’ll both have the buffet and iced tea. As we fill our salad plates with fruit and cheese (and salad), Goodman explains that, even though Obamacare remains unpopular with vast swaths of the public, fundraising these days is hard.  With so many voices and notions on the right, it has been difficult to build a coalition. There are plenty of people who’d like to see Obamacare abolished completely, and Goodman has to point out to them that 10 million Americans would immediately lose their coverage if that were to happen. 

He says he looks for common ground with politicians on the other side of the aisle. He has even worked with a few Democrats through the years. “The reasonable ones,” he says with a smile.

Goodman sums up his political views for me like this: “You’ve got the bedroom and the boardroom,” he says. “And I want the government out of both.”

On his second trip to the buffet, he gets small portions of a few different things: a scoop of brown rice, a bit of fettuccine alfredo, some tilapia, and a thin slice of the pink tenderloin. I ask him how he came to dedicate his life to the idea of privatization and the virtues of a free-market economy. Goodman says it started when he was at the Univeristy of Texas at Austin, studying economics in a liberal arts college with virtual zero conservative professors. Fellow students introduced him to the works of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. When he went to graduate school at Columbia University, he did his dissertation on why politics so often yields bad policy.

“Depending on the project,” he says, “the government almost always spends either too little or too much.” He tells me he believes in government, he just thinks it should be limited to the rules, and that it should monitor contracts.

It’s right about then that a man approaches our table. He says he’s sorry to interrupt but … “Are you John Goodman?” The man explains that he’s a surgeon at Baylor. “You’ve done so much for healthcare,” he says, before singing the praises of HSAs. 

When the surgeon leaves, I ask Goodman, mostly as a joke, if he had been planted—a contrived display for me. Goodman says because he’s on cable news a few times a week, strangers sometimes recognize him.

Over coffee we end up talking about ideas he has had that, for one reason or another, never got traction. He’d like to see drug addiction treated as a health issue, for example, outside of the criminal justice system. He thinks going to prison shouldn’t mean losing your right to work for a company, as long as security is not an issue. 

As we sit there, in the afterglow of an exquisite lunch, I ask him if he feels any pressure, as a healthcare guru, to live an especially healthy lifestyle. (He seems pretty fit.) Goodman says he quit smoking a few years ago, he goes for brisk walks in the morning, and has a regimen of calisthenics. But he doesn’t feel any particular pressures to live a certain way. Just then the dessert tray comes by, full of sugar-laden treats. Goodman shakes his head. “None for me.”