A Short History of Group Health

A Revolutionary Idea

Radical. Controversial. Socialist. Those were a few of the terms used to denounce a new health care organization formed more than 65 years ago. The organization? Group Health.

And the radical ideas? That health care should help keep people healthy, not just treat illnesses and injuries. That doctors and specialists should work together in the patients' best interest, not as single practitioners each billing to their own end. And that doctors and patients should collaborate in determining the best approach to care.

Most revolutionary of all was the idea that one organization could provide an integrated health system, providing care — and coverage for that care — at an affordable price.

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Driven by Compassion

It was 1947 when Group Health was formed by people just like you — people looking for health care that’s as reliable as it is reasonably priced. A few dozen like-minded doctors and concerned citizens gave birth to a "cooperative," providing prepaid medical coverage from family physicians and specialists working together to coordinate care.

Group Health continues to be governed by the members it serves, so consumers have a say in the policy decisions affecting their care. As a nonprofit organization, we don't answer to shareholders or stock price, only to our longstanding mission to serve the greatest number of consumers with the highest quality of care as affordably as possible.

Fueled by Innovation

Since our very founding we've been advancing innovative approaches to health care. We were the first in the state to promote pre-natal care and well child visits (1947), cancer screening exams with free, routine Pap tests (1958), and mental health coverage (1969). We offered Medicare from the start (1966), and were the first to provide patients with a consulting nurse helpline (1970) and midwifery services (1977), and cover a heart transplant (1985).

We've led the way with electronic health care, where patients can e-mail their doctors and go online to request appointments, check their benefits, order prescriptions, and get lab results. There is a computer in every exam room at Group Health Medical Centers, which gives doctors immediate access to patients' electronic medical records. From the beginning, we've stressed preventive medicine to keep members from getting sick in the first place. And when treatment is needed, we coordinate care between primary care doctors and specialists, following proven, evidence-based approaches to facilitate healing.

In 2012, we partnered with Providence Health Care to introduce an accountable care organization — now called CareUnity — for companies with employees working in the Spokane area. A year later we made our plans for individuals available through Washington Healthplanfinder, our state's health plan exchange. We’ve also made our large and small employer group plans available on some private exchanges. These avenues complement access to our plans directly from Group Health or through our producers (also known as agents or brokers).

In 2014, we collaborated with Bartell Drugs to introduce CareClinic, neighborhood clinics providing after-hours care to Group Health members and nonmembers alike. That same year, we also introduced our Access PPO plan, giving employers the choice of offering their employees treatment anywhere in the country from their preferred provider of choice.

More Than Just Care and Coverage

In 1981, long before the Washington State Patient Bill of Rights, our all-member board drew up its own patients' bill of rights. In 1983 we formed the Group Health Foundation to support Group Health and community health by raising funds for research, community and school outreach, care innovation, health education, and support of public health initiatives.

Our commitment to evidence-based care led to the 1983 creation of what is now the Group Health Research Institute, resulting in groundbreaking research that’s respected and trusted by international health care experts around the world. In 2013 alone, the Institute had nearly 300 active grants and 253 published articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Group Health Today

For more than six decades, Group Health has done nothing less than transform health care, from the way it's delivered to the way it’s paid for. As the industry, employers, consumers, and policy makers move into the era of health care reform, we’ll continue to develop innovative ways to deliver care and improve value. All while combining knowledge, technology, creativity, and compassion to bring even better health to everyone we serve.

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