Misreading 1798 Law Mandating Insurance Purchase By Seamen

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Misreading 1798 Law Mandating Insurance Purchase By Seamen

Post by UtahOwl »

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: [Re: Re: FYI: Founding Fathers supported mandated health insurance]
From: John Karls
Date: Fri, January 21, 2011 6:32 pm
To: June Taylor aka Utah Owl
Cc: Tom Chancellor, Ted Gurney, Annahir Cariello, Nikki Norton

Dear June,

Yes, you understand the Commerce Clause of the Constitution correctly. That the merchant seamen case was regulating the seamen in their capacity as interstate-commerce workers.

The defenders of the 2010 legislation, however, are trying to link insurance to interstate commerce as insurance (rather than by virtue of the status of the insureds). However, if that is the linkage, the question becomes whether the federal government has the power to compel someone who does not otherwise participate in interstate commerce to do so by becoming insured. And, if so, what is the meaning of the interstate-commerce requirement for federal legislation since everything, then, is interstate commerce because, even if it isn’t, it can forced to become so. [As summarized in last week's RL e-mail and on www.ReadingLiberally-SaltLake.org, the Founding Fathers presumably meant something was not interstate commerce if they had taken the trouble to specify it as a requirement.]

You also commented about your inability to understand why the line is drawn where it is, viz. with interstate commerce.

Presumably the 13 states which had been operating for more than a decade under the Articles of Confederation as de facto independent countries (each issuing its own currency, conducting its own foreign policy, etc., etc.), were willing to permit the central government to regulate commerce if it involved more than one state. But otherwise to but out!!!

Nevertheless, it doesn't matter why they drew the line there, because they did. And, as you've heard me say more times (I'm sure) than you would care to remember, we are stuck with a document (The Constitution) which was written by some primitive farmers 223 years ago.

Though this is another provision of that primitive and out-of-date document that I wouldn't mind seeing Breyer, et. al., ignore!!! [Though I am sure that in doing so (if they in fact do so) they will camouflage their ignoring it with several pages of nonsense!!!]

Your friend,

John K.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: FYI: Founding Fathers supported mandated health insurance
From: June Taylor aka Utah Owl
Date: Fri, January 21, 2011 4:12 pm
To: John Karls

Ah - I knew you would home in on a problem. The 1798 case was limited to merchant seamen, and the govt authority derives from Federal authority to regulate interstate commerce - have I got that right?

BUT...can one make a serious argument, in these days of globalization, that we restrict the application of govt interest in interstate commerce narrowly to the kind of work an individual engages in? Is education of children to provide a competent workforce not important for interstate commerce, for example?

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Re: FYI: Founding Fathers supported mandated health insurance
From: John Karls
Date: Fri, January 21, 2011 2:22 pm
To: June Taylor aka Utah Owl
Cc: Tom Chancellor, Ted Gurney, Annahir Cariello, Nikki Norton

Dear June,

What's so surprising about the Founding Fathers' belief that seamen engage in interstate (including international) commerce???

That has nothing to do with mandating the purchase of health insurance by (A) workers who do not engage in interstate commerce and, more importantly, (B) citizens who do not work at all.

But not to worry. The 22 state Attorneys General are better informed than whoever authored the Forbes.com blog.

Your friend,

John K.

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: FYI: Founding Fathers supported mandated health insurance
From: June Taylor aka Utah Owl
Date: Fri, January 21, 2011 10:19 am
To: John Karls, Tom Chancellor, Ted Gurney, Annahir Cariello

--------------------------- Forwarded message ---------------------------
From: Nikki Norton
Date: Friday, January 21, 2011
Subject: Founding Fathers supported mandated health insurance

Hi All,

This historical perspective seems to be making the rounds again because of a recent Forbes article and the dangerous rhetoric from House Republicans this week:

http://blogs.forbes.com/rickungar/2011/ ... e-in-1798/


The ink was barely dry on the [health insurance reform] when the first of many lawsuits to block the mandated health insurance provisions of the law was filed in a Florida District Court.

The pleadings, in part, read -

The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage.

It turns out, the Founding Fathers would beg to disagree.

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.

Keep in mind that the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.

And when the Bill came to the desk of President John Adams for signature, I think it’s safe to assume that the man in that chair had a pretty good grasp on what the framers had in mind.

Here’s how it happened.

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 encourage you to read the law as, in those days, legislation was short, to the point and fairly easy to understand.

The law did a number of fascinating things.

First, it created the Marine Hospital Service, a series of hospitals built and operated by the federal government to treat injured and ailing privately employed sailors. This government provided healthcare service was to be paid for by a mandatory tax on the maritime sailors (a little more than 1% of a sailor’s wages), the same to be withheld from a sailor’s pay and turned over to the government by the ship’s owner. The payment of this tax for health care was not optional. If a sailor wanted to work, he had to pay up.

This is pretty much how it works today in the European nations that conduct socialized medical programs for its citizens – although 1% of wages doesn’t quite cut it any longer.

The law was not only the first time the United States created a socialized medical program (The Marine Hospital Service) but was also the first to mandate that privately employed citizens be legally required to make payments to pay for health care services. Upon passage of the law, ships were no longer permitted to sail in and out of our ports if the health care tax had not been collected by the ship owners and paid over to the government – thus the creation of the first payroll tax in our nation’s history.

When a sick or injured sailor needed medical assistance, the government would confirm that his payments had been collected and turned over by his employer and would then give the sailor a voucher entitling him to admission to the hospital where he would be treated for whatever ailed him.

While a few of the healthcare facilities accepting the government voucher were privately operated, the majority of the treatment was given out at the federal maritime hospitals that were built and operated by the government in the nation’s largest ports.

As the nation grew and expanded, the system was also expanded to cover sailors working the private vessels sailing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The program eventually became the Public Health Service, a government operated health service that exists to this day under the supervision of the Surgeon General.

So much for the claim that “The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty….”

As for Congress’ understanding of the limits of the Constitution at the time the Act was passed, it is worth noting that Thomas Jefferson was the President of the Senate during the 5th Congress while Jonathan Dayton, the youngest man to sign the United States Constitution, was the Speaker of the House.

While I’m sure a number of readers are scratching their heads in the effort to find the distinction between the circumstances of 1798 and today, I think you’ll find it difficult.

Yes, the law at that time required only merchant sailors to purchase health care coverage. Thus, one could argue that nobody was forcing anyone to become a merchant sailor and, therefore, they were not required to purchase health care coverage unless they chose to pursue a career at sea.

However, this is no different than what we are looking at today.

Each of us has the option to turn down employment that would require us to purchase private health insurance under the health care reform law.

Would that be practical? Of course not – just as it would have been impractical for a man seeking employment as a merchant sailor in 1798 to turn down a job on a ship because he would be required by law to purchase health care coverage.

What’s more, a constitutional challenge to the legality of mandated health care cannot exist based on the number of people who are required to purchase the coverage – it must necessarily be based on whether any American can be so required.

Clearly, the nation’s founders serving in the 5th Congress, and there were many of them, believed that mandated health insurance coverage was permitted within the limits established by our Constitution.

The moral to the story is that the political right-wing has to stop pretending they have the blessings of the Founding Fathers as their excuse to oppose whatever this president has to offer.

History makes it abundantly clear that they do not.

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