Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why healthcare

1790 A yellow fever epidemic killed 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population. During epidemics everyone lived in fear, sometimes there were not enough healthy people to do the work.
Every house had a pit privy in back and a well out front, many wells were contaminated. Disease led city officials to hire Benjamin Latrobe to build a pumping station in 1801. He pumped water from the Schuylkill River, into wooden tanks and pipes.   We know that having abundant clean water to drink and wash sharply lowers infection rates. They had been losing 400 residents a year to cholera, afterward less than 10.  Today we take clean water for granted, but engineers and epidemiologist consider it the most important advancement of all time
1871 Union veterans Col. William Church and Gen. George Wingate formed the National Rifle Association, not for political purpose or personal gain. Their motivation was to reduce the time and cost of training city bred inductees who lacked marksmanship skills so we could have better defense.  
1896 The British army was dissatisfied with the sickly condition of recruits.  To strengthen their military they campaigned for and ultimately passed the National Insurance Act of 1911.  Compulsory health insurance was provided for low paid workers. The worker contributed fourpence.  An estimated 13 million workers came to be covered under this scheme.  It evolved into the National Health Service
Also 1896, Robert Baden-Powell, serving in Rhodesia, met Frederick Russell Burnham, the American-born Chief of Scouts.  During their patrols Burnham taught Baden-Powell woodcraft; skills little known in the British Army but well-known to the American scout. Baden-Powell was concerned that soldiers lacked the skills to survive outdoors weakening the army.  He published Scouting for Boys, describing the skills of frontiersmen and indigenous Americans starting Boy Scouts to make better soldiers.
1914 Henry Ford doubled the wages at Ford Company, not out of generosity.  Poor attendance and high turnover were making it hard to keep his factories running.  He became one of the richest men in history but also created the modern middle class.  Workers could buy the cars, creating a demand for more production and more workers.  He also set up schools for immigrant workers to learn to read and write English, so they could be more productive and he could make more.
1933 Henry J. Kaiser and other large construction contractors had formed an insurance consortium to meet their workers' compensation obligations, but the costs were too high and the only hospital was failing. Harold Hatch, an engineer-turned-insurance-agent suggested that the insurance companies pay Dr. Garfield a fixed amount per day, per covered worker, up front. This solved the hospital’s immediate money troubles and, at the same time, enabled Dr. Garfield to emphasize maintaining health and safety rather than merely treating illness and injury. Thus, prepayment came to America. For five cents per day, workers were provided this new form of health coverage. For an additional five cents per day, workers could also receive coverage for non-job related medical problems. Thousands of workers enrolled, and the hospital became a financial success. They profited by helping others.
All of these stories and countless others show the wisdom of providing essentials such as health care. We should not think of public health service as a give-away. When we invest tax dollars to immunize other children we protect our own children from those same diseases. The Constitution admonishes the government “to promote the general welfare.”  Healthy people are smarter, happier, safer and more productive; less likely to go on strike, resort to self-medication, drugs, alcohol and other things that lead to crime.  The young and healthy who do not need care today can think of it as insurance for when they will need care. Universal health care is the smart thing to do.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail

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