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What are the major health insurance companies?

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The major health insurance companies in the US include UnitedHealth, Kaiser, Wellpoint, Aetna, Humana, and various Blue Cross divisions. UnitedHealth is currently the largest. This article reviews the top few, and mentions all that appear in the top ten.

United Health operates two major divisions. The first, UnitedHealthcare, administers health benefits through employer-based network programs, as well as individual, Medicare, and other health care plans. Optum, the second UnitedHealth division, specializes in health and wellness care.

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OptumInsight is primarily an information and research organization supporting its global health efforts while OptumRx provides administrative and management support to pharmacies and mail order prescription networks.

Why isn’t UnitedHealth available in my area?

While UnitedHealth may be the biggest single health care provider in the United States, like most companies, it is still only considered a regional service provider. Health insurance companies, like other insurance organizations, must be licensed in every state in which they intend to do business.

The laws, policies, and procedures in regards to health care, and insurances in general, vary from state to state. This has allowed a variety of health related companies and programs to grow and prosper in different areas of the country.

How did health insurance get started?

America’s first insurance companies began in colonial times. Benjamin Franklin had already formed one of the young nation’s first fire-fighting companies, the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia. Meeting with other like-minded fire associations in 1752, they agreed to form the first mutual insurance company in the colonies, the Fire Insurance Company of North America.

Health insurance emanated from accident and disability programs that began to spring up in America in the 1860s. These early programs provided financial assistance to families of workers who were injured or disabled on the job and unable to support their families.

The first group disability policy was written in 1911. The first hospitalization plans were actually started by hospitals, looking to increase business by offering discounts for services that patients paid for in advance.

When did modern health insurance companies appear?

The year marking the great depression, 1929, was a banner year for health insurance. That year, teachers in Dallas, Texas, formed the first hospitalization plan with Baylor University Hospital. This was also the very first example of an HMO, or health maintenance organization. At the same time in California, another HMO group, the Ross-Loos clinic began.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield groups were initially non-profit health insurance providers, sponsored by local hospitals and other health care providers. They originally provided only service type benefits and did not pay reimbursements to members for their medical expenses.

Also in 1929, Henry Kaiser organized and implemented health care programs for his many Kaiser Company employees, the beginnings of the Kaiser Permanente health insurance organization, number three on the U.S. News list.

Kaiser Permanente, founded in 1945, is based in Oakland, California. It is comprised of three divisions:

  • Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
  • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan
  • Permanente Medical Groups

At last count, Kaiser Permanente boasted almost 9 million members. The Kaiser groups employ about 170 thousand people. Its 35 medical centers and 430 plus medical offices employ nearly 15 thousand doctors. Kaiser is the largest managed care group in the United States.

What are some of the other large U.S. health insurance providers?

Just ahead of Kaiser on the U.S. News list is the WellPoint Group of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Presently, WellPoint directly claims more than 34 million members, serving 66 million total individuals through its subsidiaries. WellPoint offers a great variety of medical and specialized health care products.

WellPoint is a relative newcomer in the health care industry, forming in 2004 after merging with Anthem, Inc and becoming the largest health benefits group in America. WellPoint programs are currently available in 14 states.

Beyond its network of health care programs, WellPoint also writes life and disability policies, and provides the following products through its subsidiaries:

  • Vision
  • Dental and behavioral health coverage
  • Manages flexible spending accounts
  • Long-term care products

Rounding out the top 10 health insurance companies in the U.S. News list are:

  • Aetna Group
  • Humana
  • HCSC Group
  • Coventry Corporation
  • Highmark
  • Independence Blue Cross Group
  • Blue Shield of California Group

The next set of companies includes:

  • Blue Shield of California Group
  • Cigna Health
  • BCBS of Michigan
  • Health Net of California, Inc.
  • BCBS of New Jersey Group

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