Congress Mandates Socialized Healthcare – in 1798

From Rick Ungar in (of all places) Forbes magazine, who actually went and did the research himself, comes the story of the founding fathers themselves (who, as Ungar observes, didn’t have to speculate much about what the intent of the founding fathers was, LOL) mandating that private sailors purchase health insurance to be used in (gasp!) government-owned/run hospitals and clinics:

In July of 1798, Congress passed – and President John Adams signed – “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.” The law authorized the creation of a government operated marine hospital service and mandated that privately employed sailors be required to purchase health care insurance…

During the early years of our union, the nation’s leaders realized that foreign trade would be essential to the young country’s ability to create a viable economy. To make it work, they relied on the nation’s private merchant ships – and the sailors that made them go – to be the instruments of this trade.

The problem was that a merchant mariner’s job was a difficult and dangerous undertaking in those days. Sailors were constantly hurting themselves, picking up weird tropical diseases, etc.

The troublesome reductions in manpower caused by back strains, twisted ankles and strange diseases often left a ship’s captain without enough sailors to get underway – a problem both bad for business and a strain on the nation’s economy.

But those were the days when members of Congress still used their collective heads to solve problems – not create them.

Realizing that a healthy maritime workforce was essential to the ability of our private merchant ships to engage in foreign trade, Congress and the President resolved to do something about it.

Enter “An Act for The Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”.

I’d urge you to read the rest of Ungar’s article, though in truth, in his very next sentence after the above passage, Ungar himself urges his own readers to go read the legislation itself (linked above). As Ungar notes, the Act dates from a time in the young Republic when emphasis was placed on getting things done, and on serving the people and shaping the new country, rather than on currying political favor, rewarding wealthy constituents and attempting to guard against every possible legal challenge. As a result, bills of that time were (compared to today’s byzantine behemoths) short, straightforward and relatively easy to understand. Whether you read Unger’s article, the original law itself, or Greg Sargent’s follow-up piece which confirms Ungar’s findings and extrapolations with a professor of American history who is an expert in the early republic – or all three – the end result is the same: our founding fathers themselves did not object on principle to the concept of government’s role in providing – even mandating – health care.