The early days of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans marked the birth of prepaid health care coverage in America. Originally, Blue Cross Plans were formed to cover the cost of hospital care while Blue Shield Plans were established to cover physicians' services. Now, in most states, plans have combined to offer the full spectrum of health coverage in single corporate form.
The Blue Cross story began in 1929 when Justin Ford Kimball, an official at Baylor University in Dallas, introduced a plan to guarantee school teachers 21 days of hospital care for $6 a year. Other groups of employees in Dallas soon joined the plan, and the idea quickly attracted nationwide attention.
In 1933, E. A. van Steenwyk, an executive with the forerunner of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, began to identify his hospital care program with a blue-colored cross design. Other groups elsewhere in the country followed suit, and in 1939, the Blue Cross symbol was officially adopted by a commission of American Hospital Association (AHA) as the national emblem for Plans that met certain guidelines.
In 1960, the commission was replaced by the Blue Cross Association, which was independent of the AHA. All formal ties with the AHA were severed in 1972.
The Blue Shield concept grew out of the lumber and mining camps of the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century. Employers wanted to provide medical care for their workers and made arrangements with physicians who were paid a monthly fee for their services. These contracts led to the creation of medical service bureaus composed of groups of physicians. The first was organized in Tacoma, Washington, by Pierce County physicians in 1917. Some bureaus, including Pierce County Bureau, still operate today as Blue Shield Plans.
These pioneer programs provided the basis for the first modern Blue Shield Plan, which was founded in California in 1939. The Blue Shield symbol was informally adopted in 1948 by a group of nine Plans known as the Associated Medical Care Plans and registered at the federal patent and trademark office in 1951. This group eventually became the National Association of Blue Shield Plans. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, created in 1982, is the result of a merger of the Blue Cross Association and the National Association of Blue Shield Plans.