Health Care mandate and King James I (of the Bible)

YANKEE CLIPPER, the SS CHALLENGE, 1858

7/15/17

Arguments were fierce during debate over the world’s first health care mandate in the British Parliament of 1624. Eventually, the Government’s bill, requiring an assessment on the wages of all sailors to pay for the care of sick and injured seamen, was passed over all objections and signed by the King.

King James I, beset by serious health challenges throughout his life, obviously had some empathy for those engaged in probably the most dangerous occupation of the age. Signing this bill, entitled “REVISED STATUTES (for the welfare of seamen)” was one of his last official acts, as he died in 1625.  Among his other distinctions was the convening of scholars in 1604 and the resultant KING JAMES BIBLE OF 1611.  He was the only British monarch who was a published author and a renowned linguist, fluent in 5 languages, conversant in several more.

The result of superior medical care for British sailors, not available to sailors of other countries, was that the British Navy became the most powerful in the world for the succeeding 300 years.

In 1791, George Washington signed a similar law which, since the new United States of America had no actual Navy at the time, (The “Continental Navy”, active in the Revolutionary War, had been disbanded and its ships sold–the US Navy was established by the Naval Act of 1794, also signed by President Washington) applied to merchant ships calling on US ports and was paid by ship owners.  Alexander Hamilton wrote of the importance of what he called a “nursery  {its meaning at the time was “attentive care”} of seamen” (in FEDERALIST PAPERS #11), to the future commercial success of our new nation, dependent, at the time, totally on marine commerce.

The better health of our sailors made the US merchant fleet, epitomized by the sleek “Yankee Clippers”, the best in the world for the next 150 years.

The resulting Marine Hospital Service became the Public Health Service which dealt with epidemics such as Cholera, Smallpox, Typhoid fever and malaria in the general population. The National Institutes of Health was added to pioneer research into polio, cancer, vaccine and drug development. It’s no accident that these  entities were part of the Treasury Department, (until 1953 when the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was created by President Eisenhower) charged with the health of our economy.

More recently, Kaiser Shipyards, desperate to attract workers needed to build “Liberty Ships” during World War II (the extraordinary production of which was vital to the Allied victory), created the “Kaiser Plan”, the model for managed care health plans for the succeeding 70 years. It was the model for the Massachusetts Health care plan under Governor Romney and “Obamacare”.  Today’s critics of  inclusive, public health care, mindlessly repeating the same discredited arguments heard first in 1624, appear to have learned nothing from history.

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