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Monday, November 15, 2010

Thomas Jefferson: A Founding Father Weighs in on Health Care

The political debate over the new health law has been hijacked by opponents who claim that the new law is "un-American," even saying that the founding fathers would have been against the legislation. This accusation couldn't be farther from the truth. Let's take a look at Thomas Jefferson as an example.

Thomas Jefferson believed that good health was essential to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – the key American values that are found in the Declaration of Independence. He constantly reminded family and friends that health was a "natural right," just like our rights to liberty and justice. Jefferson argued that a person needed to be healthy to be educated and protect American values like liberty and equality. He said, "You may promise yourself everything – but [without] health, [...] there is no happiness. An attention to health then should take place of every other object."

Jefferson made great efforts to improve public health care. During his five years in Paris, from 1784 to 1789, he worked with a committee to reform the city's ailing public health system. He worked closely with and was influenced by other health care reformers, including his close friend the Marquis de Condorcet, who proposed the nationalization of health care rather than a charity-based hospital system.

During this period of time, the hospital system was unorganized and unsanitary, and Jefferson detested it. Jefferson thought that the old hospitals contributed to great social ills such as disease and poverty because they were unregulated and incapable of managing their patient load. He felt that hospital reform was essential for the improvement of the well-being of society.

He worked hard to fight the great disparities of wealth in America so that its citizens could be prosperous, free, happy, independent, and ethical human beings. He believed that this was only possible if every citizen was able to improve his or her standard of living – and one way to do this was to make sure people's basic needs are met, including the ability to improve their health. An improved standard of living not only helped the individual to achieve their goals, but also helped communities as a whole.

The idea of reforming and regulating national health care is not a new idea, and above all it is not an enemy of American ideals. In fact, health care reform is one of the most important manifestations of American ideals. The new health care law doesn't strip away people's liberty – it enhances it by giving people access to one of their most basic needs, allowing them to pursue their dreams.

The new health care makes oversight and regulation stronger to make our health care system more efficient, which will achieve the same goals that Thomas Jefferson sought in his efforts in Paris and in America. Medicaid coverage will be expanded so that millions of low-income Americans will have access to affordable care. And every American – regardless of whether or not they've ever been sick – will have more options to purchase affordable health care.

Looking at Jefferson's intentions for the future of this nation, we can't help but conclude that he would be nothing short of proud of our progress.