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I wrote this question after searching “health insurance” on the Library of Congress’s, online Chronicling America collection, and finding an early health insurance company. When I Googled to ask what the first health insurance company was, I find all the answers to be incorrect. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, “The Massachusetts Health Insurance Company of Boston was organized this month [April] in 1847". According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 1850 the Franklin Health Assurance Company of Massachusetts offered the first accident and health insurance.. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics seems to endorse the Franklin Health Insurance as the first health insurance company by posting a paper to their page that says, “For a 15-cent premium, the policy would pay the bearer $200 in the case of bodily injury as a result of an accident by railway or steamboat. If the accident resulted in total disability, the policy would pay $400..

Both answers are incorrect. The reason they are incorrect is because at least one health insurance company predates these companies.

Also, thanks to a comment, I'll explain what I mean by "health insurance" and "company." By health insurance company, I simply mean a private organization founded with the purpose to provide health insurance to others. This would exclude government attempts at insurance, like that mentioned in Zach Lipton's comment. This would also exclude, arbitrarily I agree, mutual benefit societies, like that of the Odd Fellows (mentioned in my answer below), because they provide much more than simply health insurance. For example, unlike health insurance companies, the Odd Fellows provide education services for orphaned children, and care for widows.

"Health insurance", as referred to here, means insurance paid during times of illness or injury. Now, "insurance" is different from the modern use. In modern parlance, health insurance simply covers the cost of medical expenses; however, back in the mid-19th century, medical costs were minimal. This means the primary cost of illness or injury back then was lost wages from inability to work. Therefore, "insuring health" back then meant that the insurance covered the cost of lost wages by paying a weekly check during the "calamity".

In some places, such as a JSTOR article I can no longer find, or Edwin J. Faulkner's 1940 book "Accident and Health Insurance" (I can't find it online, I got it through my library), they differentiate between "accident", "sickness", and "health" insurance. The first being money paid when the insured incurs an accident; the second when sickness is incurred; with the third being money paid for healthcare. These are later classifications. At the time, "health insurance" referred to both sickness and accident insurance, as my answer will make clear.

If anyone thinks necessary, I could add the history that predated private insurance, but this is kind of long as it is.

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    IMHO accident insurance is a very different thing than health insurance. I have both from my company.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 8, 2023 at 16:09
  • It was operated by the federal government, so not a "company," but a very early example is that the 5th Congress established a health insurance scheme for seamen in 1798, funded by a 20 cent/month deduction from wages, eventually leading to the Marine Hospital Service. Jan 9, 2023 at 12:47
  • Either describing the answers as suspect on account of the inherent conflict between them, or providing at least some brief explanation of why those answers were suspect in the question itself is probably better than referring to an answer for that content: it privileges your own answer over any competing one that could possibly be added in the future. Jan 9, 2023 at 18:03
  • You should try to make clear what you mean by "health insurance" and "company".
    – user54367
    Jan 10, 2023 at 1:57
  • @user24096 I edited the question per your suggestion. Thank you. Jan 27, 2023 at 20:05

1 Answer 1

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The answer is the New England Health Insurance Company of Connecticut, which was incorporated in May of 1846. I found a copy of the documents incorporating and dissolving the company online, but I can’t find it anymore. Luckily, I contacted the Connecticut archives to ask if they had any more information on the company, and they emailed me the same thing I already found online. Here’s a picture of the first page of it, in the hopes someone can locate it online, then edit my answer to include the link there someone located it online, and it can be found here:

Find this book!!!

That book has the acts incorporating the business in May 1846 and dissolving it in 1853.

the first health insurance company is incorporated in Connecticut in May 1845

the first health insurance company is dissolved in 1853 The whole document is 7 pages long and includes a LOT of potentially interesting information about how the company is to be constructed and dissolved, but it is pretty dry to me. If anyone is interested in it, I can email it to them, or potentially screenshot the thing (maybe upload the PDF?), if I can do that please explain how.

I was also able to find out what the first health insurance policy was in the 21 July 1846 NY Post:

The earliest advertisement I can find for the first insurance company in America

TLDR: they paid 4 dollars a week if the person is incapacitated due to injury or illness. It says that the insured will share in on the profits of the companies. And in a brief article in the American Republican and Baltimore Clipper, dated 1 August 1846, the premium was an annual $5.

Here’s that article entirely:

Tells the cost of the first health insurance premium

I also find several mentions of the company behind a paywall on Newspapers.com, here, none of them tell the specifics of the enterprise, just that it was incorporated. And you can read how many nearby papers marvel at the new concept.

Now, a few caveats. The New England Health Insurance Company did not invent the concept of health insurance. The Odd Fellows can probably lay claim to that in modern America. The Odd Fellows were a mutual benefit society that started in the late 17th century (possibly earlier, but there seems to be debate there). And, interestingly, in the 18 September 1845 edition of the Indiana State Sentinel an advertisement for an Odd Fellows lodge touts itself as a “mutual health-insurance company. The TLDR of the last link is that you pay $20 initially, then $7.50 annually, to become a member of the Odd Fellowship (at the entry level), and the benefits you get from this is that if you fell sick or were injured and unable to work, not only would you receive $5 a week in compensation, you would have members of the guild come and tend to you if you did not have a wife or family who could. Also, if you died, your children would be educated and your widow cared for. They also had convalescent homes for when the Odd Fellow aged. The Odd Fellows are still around today.

Another interesting point is that this 1845 advertisement occurred right after Francis Neison calculated the Odd Fellows would go under (they did not), and before actuarial science had fully matured. These early health insurance companies lacked the formulas and figures needed, so most failed shortly after being founded. If you search “health insurance” on the online Chronicling America collection (I linked it more towards the top) and use some cunning on the papers you choose to more closely inspect (i.e. recognize when “health” and “insurance” are together) you will find several before the Franklin Health Assurance Company, and maybe one or two other prior to the Massachusetts Health Insurance Company of Boston, most of which you will read failed shortly after. By conducting this search on your own you can read how companies tried new rate plans, and offered multiple rates. Companies that predate the MAHAC would be the one mentioned here and the Lowell Health Insurance Company.

To wrap up, if anyone is interested in the more detailed version of how the stocks are to be divided up comment below, and I will try to add the PDF, if not I can screenshot them and add them. HOPEFULLY, someone can find the online copy of the book on the Connecticut archives website.

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