Did George Washington sign a health insurance mandate?

According to Harvard Law professor Einer Elhauge, in 1790 the first Congress, which included 20 framers of the Constitution, passed a law mandating that shipowners purchase medical insurance for their seamen. The bill was signed into law by President George Washington.

In 1792 Congress passed, and Washington signed, a law mandating the purchase of firearms by all able bodied men.

In 1798, when five framers were still serving in Congress and framer John Adams was in the White House, Congress passed, and Adams signed, a mandate requiring seamen to  buy hospital insurance for themselves.

According to Elhauge –who joined an amicus brief supporting the mandate’s constitutionality– no one  in Congress at the time thought to object to the laws on Constitutional grounds.

I don’t know what role this brief should or will play in the Court’s deliberations, but assuming the facts are correct in Elhauge’s New Republic piece it’s much more evidence of original intent than I ever would have expected.

April 13, 2012

8 thoughts on “Did George Washington sign a health insurance mandate?”

  1. This was not even close to Obamacare.
    1. it only applied to sailors
    2. Governing the waterways was federal, not state jurisdiction.
    Obamacare forces ALL Americans to purchase. That articel by that professor was intellectually dishonest and philosophically way off the mark

  2. His point is that welfare of people in the form of healthcare was important then as it is now… and that the original framers of the constitution weren’t running around flapping their arms over it as major issue. I wonder how you would deliver your opinion to the ~50million people that don’t have coverage today?

  3. PolitiFact already ruled on this professor’s research last january and found it “Mostly True”. Clearly the first Congress believed it necessary for to mandate to purchase a specific product and the Supreme Court (same on as Marbury v. Madison) upheld it. So not only would the Supreme Ct be overturning its very own precedent in “Raich” if it overturns the ACA’s individual mandate, it also would be redefining over two centuries of commerce clause precedent. Scalia and Kennedy have repeatedly said that Congress’interstate commerce power is “limitless” when exercised for a legitimate public purpose.


  4. Kevin — PolitiFact is Not a legitimate Fact-Check organization. Doesn’t matter which party they are accusing of lying. PolitiFact is For-Profit and Covered Up for the GOPig Plan to Kill Medicare by calling the Truth about Kill Medicare the “Lie of the Year” in 2011. PolitiFact’s so-called “reasoning”?: Republicans would still Call their Coupon program Medicare – therefore, according to PolitiFact, Medicare would still exist. Like a New Car with its Engine taken out is technically Still a “New Car.” Stick with FactCheck.org — they are Non-Profit and less likely to get Ethically Compromised by the Need to make a Profit.

  5. I find it problematic that judicial review had not been established until 1803. Is it plausible to think that there would have been a different outcome had this decision been made ten or fifteen years later?

  6. To compare this to ObamaCare is so intellectually dishonest I don’t know why we are even discussing it. But the fact remains that if any of those sailors did not want to buy insurance they could have found other work and not been forced or fined. With ObamaCare we have no choice. (Sorry, but choosing between buying insurance or the punishment is not a choice.) The bigger problem with the recent ruling is the precedent it sets. Now we can be forced to buy whatever the government demands or we can be punished. How in the world is that a free society? Watch for the Left to try to force us to buy electric cars or fine us if we continue to use gas combustible engines for transportation. Don’t laugh. SCOTUS just gave them the power to do so.

  7. “Watch for the Left to try to force us to buy electric cars or fine us if we continue to use gas combustible engines for transportation.”

    We taxed and regulated leaded gas out of existence, why then would this be a bad thing? We are going to have to correct problems over time. They don’t just sort themselves out with Prayer and Hope.

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