I have the utmost respect for Dr. Krugman as an economist; as an historian, not so much. The reason that universal education was adopted in the United States roughly 100 years ago had little to do with fundamental rights or equality. Its purpose was acculturation.
An enormous number of immigrants, many from Eastern and Southern Europe (in contrast to their Western and Northern European predecessors). Quite a few were (gasp!) Jews and Catholics. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans believed that there was an urgent necessity to turn these invaders into Good Americans and the public schools were the mechanism for doing this.
The public schools in the United States are now and always have been overwhelmingly funded and administered locally.
There’s no comparable purpose for children’s healthcare.
Actually, I wouldn’t oppose universal healthcare for primary school-aged children, funded and administered locally. Why aren’t more municipalities stepping up to the plate?
The answer, of course, is that health care is too expensive. Access is largely a red herring; at a lower cost the problem would solve itself.
Why is health care so expensive? It bears noting that there are for practical purposes no barriers to becoming an education provider. The cost is nominal and there are plenty of billets for education students available.
It’s quite the opposite in the case of health care providers. The number of physicians educated in the U. S. hasn’t increased in a generation. There are waiting lists for both medical and nursing schools. It’s enormously expensive.
Remove the barriers, increase the supply of health care, and the problems of cost and allocation take care of themselves. Leave the supply alone and increase the demand and you set the stage for a fiscal meltdown. Fortunately, the program would have lost political support long before that happened (cf. TennCare).
Tim Worstall quite correctly notes that public education is not without its problems.