The 1798 "Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seaman" is getting attention in the Washington Post and Forbes. The stories suggest that this act in the early republic was a precedent for socialized federal medicine today.
I offered this brief description of the law as part of a timeline on the evolution of the federal Department of Health and Human Services over at www.downsizinggovernment.org:
1798: Congress passes the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. It provides health services to members of the merchant marine and funds a loose network of hospitals through the Marine Hospital Fund. The MHF is plagued by cost overruns, administrative mismanagement, and rationing of care. Some leaders oppose the new federal subsidies as an abuse of state sovereignty.
My timeline entry has footnotes to sources for those statements.
On the politics of this, note that John Adams, who signed the bill into law as president, was on the "big government" end of the Founders, and his big-government approach in office in the 1790s--like signing the Alien and Sedition Acts--led to the ouster of the Federalists by Thomas Jefferson in 1800. (Nonetheless, Adams was, of couse, a hero of the Revolution and a truly great man).