According to the Yale Journal of Medicine & Law, the U.S. life insurance
was established in the mid-1700s; however, the earliest forms of health insurance
did not emerge until 1850 when the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts
began providing accident insurance to cover injuries related to railroad and steamboat
travel. But it still was decades before the first modern health insurance plans
Following are some highlights from a timeline at www.pbs.org tracking the history
of health insurance and the health care crisis:
- In 1901, the American Medical Association (AMA) reorganized as a national organization
of state and local associations. Membership increased from about 8,000 physicians
in 1900 to 70,000 in 1910—half the physicians in the U.S. This period marked
beginning of "organized medicine."
- During the early 1900s, railroads were the leading industry to develop extensive
employee medical programs.
- In 1913, the American Association for Labor Legislation organized the first national
conference on "social insurance."
- During the 1920s, reformers supporting health insurance emphasized the cost of medical
care instead of wages lost to sickness; the relatively higher cost of medical care
was a new and dramatic development, especially for the middle class.
- In 1928, General Motors signed a contract with Metropolitan Life to insure 180,000
- During the 1930s, Blue Cross began offering private coverage for hospital care in
dozens of states.
- During World War II, wage and price controls were placed on U.S. employers. To compete
for workers, companies began to offer health benefits, giving rise to the employer-based
system currently in place.
- In 1945, President Truman offered a national health program plan, proposing one
system that would include all of U.S. society; Truman’s plan was denounced by the
AMA and called a "Communist plot" by a House subcommittee.
- By the 1960s, more than 700 insurance companies were selling health insurance.
- In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law.
- In 1973, President Nixon renamed prepaid group health care plans as health maintenance
organizations—also known as HMOs—with legislation that provided federal
certification and assistance.
- During the 1980s, there was a shift toward privatization and corporatization of
- During the 1990s, health care costs rose at double the rate of inflation; expansion
of managed care helped to moderate increases in health care costs; and federal health
care reform legislation again failed to pass in Congress.
- During the 2000s, health care costs continued to rise; Medicare was viewed by some
as unsustainable under the present structure and needing to be "rescued"; and changing
demographics of the workplace led many to believe the employer-based system of health
insurance will not last.
To view the complete timeline on the PBS website,
For more information regarding the history of health insurance and universal health