Ensuring America's Health: Publicly Constructing the Private Health Insurance Industry

Chapin, Christy Ford, Department of History, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, Department of History, University of Virginia
Carlson, W. Bernard, Department of Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Zunz, Olivier, Department of History, University of Virginia

This dissertation demonstrates how federal policies propelled insurance companies to the center of the U.S. health care system. The way federal politics interacted with the private sector led insurers to expand their role from simply underwriting the risks associated with medical services consumption to also managing and coordinating the health care system. For the first several decades of the twentieth century, businesses, unions, consumer cooperatives, and physicians experimented with various models of financing and organizing health care. By the 1940s, however, organized physicians had decided that insurance - company policies were the only acceptable form of medical services prepayment. Most policymakers recognized that insurance - company - funded health care was inherently expensive: physicians had incentive to provide as many procedures as possible because a distant corporate entity paid the bill. Thus, even after private interests defeated Truman's plan for a government - managed health care system, President Eisenhower and congressional Republicans and Democrats sponsored various reform proposals to create a more efficient and equitable system. In order to prove that they could expand insurance and meet social goals without federal interference, insurance companies transformed health coverage from a high - end product for a select few into a mass consumer good. Insurers also converted their product from a restricted mechanism that partially protected against hospital bills into a device for covering almost all costs associated with medical care. In the process, insurers created the institutions necessary for supervising physicians and attempting to regulate costs. When policymakers created Medicare in 1965, they adopted the institutional framework that insurers had already established, thereby legitimizing the insurance - company model that had previously been so contested. The dissertation explores the institutional web forged at the intersection of public and private authority through a detailed study of trade associations and ground - level organizations, such as individual insurance companies and physician offices. It recasts the health care narrative from one that lurches from one failed reform effort to the next into an account of gradual evolution that illuminates how public policy reshaped the private sector, and in turn, how voluntary institutions influenced the choices of policymakers.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: