Tag Archives: President

And Now For Something Completely Different

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I thought I might like to go off topic and write about something other than medical tourism and its implementation into workers’ compensation.

Many of you may have certain views and beliefs about the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or PPACA), and believe that government-run, tax supported health care is unconstitutional, despite what the Supreme Court ruled. However, you will be surprised to learn, as I did the other night, that some of the Founding Fathers, namely John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, supported the establishment of federal marine hospitals under an Act signed into law by John Adams in July 1798.

In an earlier life, I was a double major in Political Science and History, among other Social Science and Humanities courses, and hold a Masters’ degree in American History from New York University. Generally, when one studies American history and American politics, emphasis is usually placed on such acts as the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the very important first cases heard by the Supreme Court such as Marbury v Madison or McCulloch v Maryland. But the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen was never a part of my courses, even when I studied American social or labor history.

As reported in two separate articles in Forbes magazine in January 2011 by Rick Unger, a Forbes Contributor, Unger describes how the 5th Congress, presided over by Thomas Jefferson in the Senate, and Jonathan Dayton, the Speaker of the House, who was the youngest man to sign the Constitution, passed the first government run and mandated health insurance program.  

In the first article, “Congress Passes Socialized Medicine and Mandates Health Insurance – In 1798”, Unger explains that the Founders realized that foreign trade was essential to our young economy, and they relied on the nation’s private merchant ships and sailors to carry out that trade. What precipitated the enactment of this law was that the job of a merchant sailor was very dangerous and difficult, and the sailors were exposed to tropical diseases and hurting themselves. This caused a reduction in manpower, and often left a ship’s captain without enough men to get out of port, which was bad for business and for the economy.

Recognizing that a healthy maritime workforce was needed, the Congress and the President did something about it. When it passed, it authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service, and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health insurance.

The Marine Hospital Service was a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing, privately employed sailors. It was paid for by a mandatory tax on the sailors (a little more than 1% of their wages) that was withheld from their pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. This was not optional, if you wanted the job, you had to pay.

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Ships were no longer permitted to sail in and out of our ports without the health care tax being paid. This was the first national payroll tax. A sick or injured sailor would be given a voucher (in those days they actually paid off) once his payments were confirmed to have been collected and paid to the government, then the voucher would allow them to be admitted to the hospitals.

A few of these hospitals were privately operated, but the majority of the sailors were treated at federal maritime hospitals. This was expanded to include the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. This program eventually became the Public Health Service, and still exists today.

The second article, “Thomas Jefferson Also Supported Government Run Health Care”, published in Forbes four days after the first article, confirms that other Founding Fathers supported the idea of mandated health coverage and a government run hospital system.

So what does this mean? It means that the Tea Party/Libertarian/GOP attempts to overturn the ACA (aka Obamacare) because it mandates that all individuals purchase health insurance, is not only Constitutional, but that the very men who started this nation, Adams and Jefferson, and those who signed the Constitution, believed that such a mandated health care system for merchant sailors was necessary. And since the Constitution is for all the people, not just a certain class of people, like merchant sailors in the 18th or 19th centuries, or today’s military personnel, their spouses and children, veterans, old people, the poor or rich, white Men and a few Women in Congress who get taxpayer supported health care, but the rest of us do not.

It also means that Grover Norquist must be a Monarchist or a traitor to the Republic because he stated that his goal was to take back the country before the Socialists took over. Before learning about this Act, I thought that meant Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Obama, but now it seems it means that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton (Really?… Alexander Hamilton, the guy on the ten dollar bill and the guy who assumed all of the debt the original thirteen states incurred during the Revolution and started our national economy), as well as a former Treasury Secretary and Speaker of the House were Socialists, according to Norquist and the Tea Party-types. Then I guess the British Crown really was a Capitalist enterprise. Who knew? The American Revolution was fought for Socialism, except Socialism did not exist for a few more decades, and Karl Marx was not even born when this Act was passed.

So whenever anyone tells you that health care isn’t a right, that it is an entitlement and that forcing people to pay for health care is un-American, or un-Constitutional, refer them to the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.