Labor Day in the US is generally noted by parades, barbeques, a day off for some, retail sales and the end of the summer vacation season. However, the origin of Labor Day goes back to the late 1800’s when the Haymarket Massacre prompted then President Grover Cleveland to make the first Monday of September a day to mark the contributions of labor to the country.
This is in stark contrast to that other day of labor that is celebrated in 80 countries today on the first of May, which is called International Workers Day, or May Day (not to be confused with a distress call at sea, or a female Bond villain played by Grace Jones), and certainly not celebrated today by a display of intercontinental nuclear missiles passing by a reviewing stand of old men in Red Square.
The fact that in the US, we celebrate workers on the last day of summer, and not the first day of May is what I’d like to call “American Exceptionism”, which is not the same as “American Exceptionalism”. “American Exceptionism” is the fact that there are many things that people all around the world do that Americans do not. For example, while the rest of the planet goes nuts over something we call “Soccer”; our citizens go crazy over a game rightly called “American Football”.
Another form of “American Exceptionism” is the fact that we have refused to sign certain treaties and agreements, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Kyoto Treaty, and so on. So in moving the day we celebrate workers and their contribution to our economy, we are the exception and not the rule that the rest of the world follows.
What does this have to do with medical tourism and implementing it into workers’ compensation, you may ask? That is a very good question, and the point of this article is to answer that question.
Over the weekend, I spent considerable time researching the origins of my family after receiving the death certificate of my maternal great-grandfather, who died before both I and my mother were born. For a number of years I have been researching both sides of my family tree, and like many millions of American families, I can trace my family back to immigrants and their families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
All four of my grandparents were immigrants from what was the Tsarist Russian Empire, with two grandparents immigrating under Polish passports, and the other two with Russian Empire passports. My maternal grandparents both came from towns that are now in Belarus, as did my paternal grandmother. Her husband came from a town in what is now Moldova.
At one time or another, these four people worked in the garment industry. My paternal grandmother owned a restaurant with her sister serving old world Jewish food, before going to work in a tie factory before she retired, and my grandfather worked driving an ice cream delivery truck. It occurred to me that if either of my grandmothers had been one of the one hundred or so, young Jewish women and girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, I probably would not be writing this article right now.
It was because of that tragedy that many states adopted laws to compensate workers who sustained injury on the job through no fault of their own. It has been over one hundred years since that tragedy, and the system put in place to prevent and ameliorate the suffering caused by workplace injuries has saved countless lives and kept thousands of families from going broke from having to pay for expensive medical care.
Workers’ compensation is by no means perfect, nor is it working the way it should or the way it was intended, but nevertheless it does work, so the sacrifice and loss of those immigrant Italian and Jewish women and girls in 1911 was not in vain. Naturally, it would have been inconceivable and impossible to get better treatment at lower cost for these and other workers if they were given the chance to return to their homelands for care while they recovered from their injuries.
Many immigrants were fleeing oppression, poverty and perhaps the authorities back home, and may have been an important financial resource for the family, so a trip across the Atlantic was not only arduous, long and expensive; it was also a symbolic break with the past. Going back across the Atlantic was out of the question for most, but some did.
However, with modern air travel and the many immigrants now coming from Latin America and the Caribbean, it is much easier, cheaper, and faster to travel back and forth from the US to their home countries. And since many of these same countries are becoming medical tourism destinations, it is more conceivable now to implement medical tourism into today’s workers’ compensation system than it was a hundred years ago.
So as we settle back into our routine lives after the Labor Day weekend, let us remember that we owe a lot to our immigrant ancestors and the workers of the past century and a half who came here seeking a better life for themselves and their families. We owe them the respect and admiration for their courage in crossing an ocean to seek a better way, and we owe them and other immigrants, more recent to these shores, a workers’ compensation system that respects them as individuals, workers, family members, and most of all, as human beings. One way we can do this is to find the way to provide them with the best care at the lowest cost and highest quality, even if that means going home to their countries of origin so that they and their friends and families will know that America cares about them.