Monday, March 29, 2010

Paul J. O'Rourke's history lesson about US federal mandates to purchase health-care insurance

(To which I was tipped off by Brad DeLong.) Actually, since several of the Founders are involved, the 1798 precedent discussed here may also bear on the question of the "original intent" of those who drafted the US Constitution. This history lesson is both timely and self-explanatory, so I'll just reproduce it below. --Jeff Weintraub

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Paul J. O'Rourke
March 24, 201o
News: Pres. Signs H-Care Insurance Mandate-212 Years Ago!

A Lesson in American History, Healthcare and the Constitution for 14 State Attorneys General

Let’s begin today’s history lesson with the following news:

(CNN) -- Officials from 14 states have gone to court to block the historic overhaul of the U.S. health care system that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, arguing the law's requirement that individuals buy health insurance violates the Constitution.

Thirteen of those officials filed suit in a federal court in Pensacola, Florida, minutes after Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The complaint calls the act an "unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states" and asks a judge to block its enforcement.

"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," the lawsuit states.

The history lesson

In July, 1798, Congress passed, and President John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen,” authorizing the creation of a marine hospital service, and mandating privately employed sailors to purchase healthcare insurance,

This legislation also created America’s first payroll tax, as a ship’s owner was required to deduct 20 cents from each sailor’s monthly pay and forward those receipts to the service, which in turn provided injured sailors hospital care. Failure to pay or account properly was discouraged by requiring a law violating owner or ship's captain to pay a 100 dollar fine.

This historical fact demolishes claims of “unprecedented” and "The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty...”

Perhaps these somewhat incompetent attorneys general might wish to amend their lawsuits to conform to the 1798 precedent, and demand that the mandate and fines be linked to implementing a federal single payer healthcare insurance plan.

The other option is to name Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison et al. in the lawsuits. However, it might be difficult to convince a judge, or the public, that those men didn't know the limits of the Constitution.

Because the attorneys general research is obviously lacking a comprehensive review of history and the Constitution, I’m providing a copy of the 5th Congress’ 1798 legislation.

CHAP. LXXVII – An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen

Section 1. 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.

SEC2. .And be it further enacted, That from and after the first day of September next, no collector shall grant to any ship or vessel whose enrolment or license for carrying on the coasting trade has expired, a new enrolment or license before the master of such ship or vessel shall first render a true account to the collector, of the number of seamen,and the time they have severally been employed on board such ship or vessel, during the continuance of the license which has so expired, and pay to such collector twenty cents per month for every month such seamen have been severally employed, as aforesaid; which sum the said master is hereby authorized to retain out of the wages of such seamen. And if any such master shall render a false account of the number of men, and the length of time they have severally been employed, as is herein required, he shall forfeit and pay one hundred dollars.

SEC3. . And be it further enacted, That it shall be the duty of the 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, in the hospitals or other proper institutions now established in the several ports of the United States, or, in ports where no such institutions exist, then in such other manner as he shall direct: Provided, that the monies collected in any one district, shall be expended within the same.

SEC. 4. .And be it further enacted, That if any surplus shall remain of the monies to be collected by virtue of this act, after defraying the expense of such temporary relief and support, that the same, together with such private donations as may be made for that purpose (which the President is hereby authorized to receive) shall be invested in the stock of the United States, under the direction of the President; and when, in his opinion, a sufficient fund shall be accumulated, he is hereby authorized to purchase or receive cessions or donations of ground or provision for buildings, in the name of the United States, and to cause buildings, when necessary, to be erected as hospitals for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen.

SEC5. . And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby authorized to nominate and appoint, in such ports of the United States, as he may think proper, one or more persons, to be called directors of the marine hospital of the United States, whose duty it shall be to direct the expenditure of the fund assigned for their respective ports, according to the third section of this act; to provide for the accommodation of sick and disabled seamen, under such general instructions as shall be given by, the President of the United States, for that purpose, and also subject to the like general instructions, to direct and govern such hospitals as the President may direct to be built in the respective ports: and that the said directors shall hold their offices during the pleasure of the President, who is authorized to fill up all vacancies that may be occasioned by the death or removal of any of the persons so to be appointed. And the said directors shall render an account of the monies received and expended by them, once in every quarter of a year, to the Secretary of the Treasury,or such other person as the President shall direct; but no other allowance or compensation shall be made to the said directors, except the payment of such expenses as they may incur in the actual discharge of the duties required by this act.

APPROVED July 16, 1798.

[JW: For more details, see Our Founding Fathers' Socialized Healthcare System.]

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