Health insurance in the United States

Accident insurance was first offered in the United States by the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts. This firm, founded in 1850, offered insurance against injuries arising from railroad and steamboat accidents. Sixty organizations were offering accident insurance in the US by 1866, but the industry consolidated rapidly soon thereafter. In 1887, the African American workers in Muchakinock, Iowa, a company town, organized a mutual protection society. Members paid fifty cents a month or $1 per family for health insurance and burial expenses. In the 1890s, various health plans became more common. Disability insurance group disability policy was issued in 1911.

Commercial insurance companies began offering accident and sickness insurance (disability insurance) as early as the mid-19th century. Hospital and medical expense policies were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. The first group medical plan was purchased from The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States by the General Tire & Rubber Company in 1934. Before the development of medical expense insurance, patients were expected to pay all other health care costs out of their own pockets, under what is known as the fee-for-service business model. During the middle to late 20th century, traditional disability insurance evolved into modern health insurance programs. Today, most comprehensive private health insurance programs cover the cost of routine, preventive, and emergency health care procedures, and also most prescription drugs, but this was not always the case.

During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis. The first group pre-payment plan was created at the Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas. This concept became popular among hospitals during the Depression, when they were facing declining revenues. The Baylor plan was a forerunner of later Blue Cross plans. Physician associations began offering pre-paid surgical/medical benefits in the late 1930s Blue Shield plans. Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans were non-profit organizations sponsored by local hospitals (Blue Cross) or physician groups (Blue Shield). As originally structured, Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans provided benefits in the form of services rendered by participating hospitals and physicians ("service benefits") rather than reimbursements or payments to the policyholder.

Hospital and medical expense policies were introduced during the first half of the 20th century. During the 1920s, individual hospitals began offering services to individuals on a pre-paid basis, eventually leading to the development of Blue Cross organizations. The Ross-Loos Clinic, founded in Los Angeles in 1929, is generally considered to have been the first health maintenance organization (HMO). Henry J. Kaiser organized hospitals and clinics to provide pre-paid health benefits to his shipyard workers during World War II. This became the basis for Kaiser Permanente HMO. Most early HMOs were non-profit organizations. The development of HMOs was encouraged by the passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. The first employer-sponsored hospitalization plan was created by teachers in Dallas, Texas in 1929.[23] Because the plan only covered members' expenses at a single hospital, it is also the forerunner of today's health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Employer-sponsored health insurance plans dramatically expanded as a result of wage controls during World War II. The labor market was tight because of the increased demand for goods and decreased supply of workers during the war. Federally imposed wage and price controls prohibited manufacturers and other employers raising wages high enough to attract sufficient workers. When the War Labor Board declared that fringe benefits, such as sick leave and health insurance, did not count as wages for the purpose of wage controls, employers responded with significantly increased benefits.

Employer-sponsored health insurance was considered taxable income until 1954.

In the United States, regulation of the insurance industry is highly Balkanized, with primary responsibility assumed by individual state insurance departments. Whereas insurance markets have become centralized nationally and internationally, state insurance commissioners operate individually, though at times in concert through a national insurance commissioners' organization. In recent years, some have called for a dual state and federal regulatory system for insurance similar to that which oversees state banks and national banks.

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