The United States Marine Hospital, Chelsea, Mass.
While there were some who wished the new America could become self sustaining and avoid depending on foreign trade, it rapidly became apparent our economy couldn't stand alone without it. We relied on the private merchant ships of America to build our economy and fund our treasury, and the captains and owners of those ships relied, of course, on sailors to staff them.
The merchant mariner's job was physical and difficult, leaving them prone to injury. General illness, tropical diseases, wretched backs, sprained wrists, ankles and broken bones could leave a captain without enough crew to man the ship.
Our Founders realized that a healthy work force was essential to our economic health and growth. It was for this reason that, in July of 1798, Congress passed, and President John Adams signed into law an act “For the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” establishing the Marine Hospital Service.
This Federal government socialized healthcare insurance was funded by a tax that was withheld from the sailor’s pay, and then turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. This first payroll tax amounted to slightly over 1% of the sailor’s wages. An injured or sick sailor would make a claim, his record of payments would be confirmed, and he would be given a “chit” for admission to the local hospital. Some of these healthcare facilities were private, but in the larger ports Federal maritime hospitals were built.
A year later, in 1799, the hospitals were opened to members of our Navy, until its own were established. (In 1936 the Merchant Marines were declared an auxiliary of the Navy during times of war and emergency, until then, they were always private employees.)
As America grew, this system was expanded to the inland ports along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and others. It eventually became our Public Health Service, led by the Surgeon General.
We should take a lesson from our Founders, and view today's health insurance issue through the same lens. A healthy work force is more productive. We have enough disadvantages as we compete in the global economy without having to bear the costly burden of a healthcare system that in too many ways works in opposition to its purpose. We're draining consumer purchasing from other more productive areas of our economy to prop up a highly monopolized system that violates that forgotten third word of the free market phrase: competition.
True competition would allow the public to participate. There is no valid free market theory that would reject that idea. That some would describe personal responsibility as surrendering our national interest to the profit motive of the few is a result of thoughtless ideology, not reason.
If we ask the question "Are we being served, or served on a platter?" the answer reveals the action we, the people should take.
Those who disagree are free to do so, but now stripped of the pretense that they are representing the principles of Our Founders, they should avoid that tidbit of sloganeering. Those saying the Constitution doesn't allow the citizens to provide for themselves are obviously wrong. What I have written about here is a prescription to cure that strain of ignorance.
I've updated this story to address the Republican (all but 1) attorneys general who have filed lawsuits claiming the insurance mandate is unconstitutional:
Here's more historical background information--
© Paul J. O'Rourke, 2009-2010