There is a diary currently sitting on the Rec List which claims that in 1798, President John Adams signed into law a requirement that sailors purchase private health insurance. It is appropriately titled, "President John Adams signed a law mandating employed sailors to purchase healthcare insurance", and seeks to validate the constitutional basis of the recently enacted mandate provisions of the health care reform bill signed by the President last week.
That diary is wholly misleading and false in its purported defense for the private health insurance mandate for two simple reasons: 1) the law referred to in that diary did not at all do what the diarist claims it did; and 2) there was no such thing as private health insurance in 1798.
So let's look at this law, shall we?
An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled - That from and after the first day of September next, the master or owner of every ship or vessel of the United States, arriving from a foreign port into any port of the United States, shall, before such ship or vessel shall be admitted to an entry, render to the collector a true account of the number of seamen, that shall have been employed on board such vessel since she was last entered at any port in the United States,-and shall pay to the said collector, at the rate of twenty cents per month for every seaman so employed; which sum he is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen
OK. So this section of the law requires a ship owner to pay to a "collector" a fee of $.20 per month, said payment which can be deducted out of the wages of a seaman. Note what this is NOT. It is NOT requiring seaman to purchase private health insurance or anything else like what the currently debated mandate requires. "Well", you may be asking, "how do we know that the 'collector' wasn't a private company that was taking the money to pay to local hospitals, doctors, etc.?" The answer is simple: because the law tells us where the money went.
And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of several collectors to make a quarterly return of the sums collected by them, respectively, by virtue of this act, to the Secretary of the Treasury; and the President of the United States is hereby authorized, out of the same, to provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen
So this Section directs that the "collectors" remit their collected moneys to the U.S. Treasury, so that the President can determine how best to use the moneys towards the sailors' benefit.
So let's recap...this law:
- Requires ship owners to remit a fixed payment to a collector;
- Allows owners to deduct this payment from seaman's wages;
- Requires the collector to remit those funds to the U.S. Tresury;
- Allows the President discretion to direct those funds for the health benefits of sailors.
Replace the words "seaman" for "all workers" in #2, and "sailors" for "senior citizens" in #4, and you have described, almost perfectly, today's Medicare system. Now I don't know about you, but I would LOVE LOVE LOVE expanding the Medicare system to all. This mandate to purchase private health insurance, however, is nowhere NEAR the same thing as Medicare.
And finally, this interesting tidbit from Wikipedia:
Accident insurance was first offered in the United States by the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts. This firm, founded in 1850, offered insurance against injuries arising from railroad and steamboat accidents.
Wikipedia entry for "Health Insurance""
In other words, private health insurance did not even exist in 1798.