As the Great Depression hit the country and most industries, hospitals in Wisconsin continued to treat citizens who could not afford to pay for care. The hospital industry responded with pre-paid hospital plans – the beginning of health insurance and Blue Cross – as a way to avoid the fate of the banking industry. Joseph Norby, superintendent of Columbia hospital in Milwaukee presented the WHA proposal for statewide hospital plans at the American Hospital Association conference in Chicago in 1938.
When WHA membership approved pursuit of the first hospitalization insurance plan in 1939, WHA teamed up with hospitals throughout the state and the Wisconsin Medical Society in one of its earliest legislative pursuits to approve and enact hospital insurance. The bill was signed into law by Governor Julius Heil that spring.
Marshfield News Herald – 27 May 1939
Hospital Plan is Signed by Governor
Madison – Governor Heil wrote into law yesterday a bill permitting the establishment of non-profit hospital service corporations.
The new law, approved by the Assembly last week after the Senate had passed it, was introduced at the request of the Wisconsin Conference of Catholic Hospitals, the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the State Medical Society.
It enables the establishment of corporations to co-operate with hospital groups – no less than six in number and having 600 beds – to permit purchase of hospital service on the installment plan in advance of illness. It was estimated the cost for an entire family would be $18 a year. Children up to 19 years may be included in family groups.
Each member is entitled to a maximum of 21 days of service.
The fee covers bed and board, general nursing, operating room, ordinary medications, limited x-ray services and other aids.
It does not include services of doctors.
Corporations are required to file annual reports to the insurance commission.