Around 1935, a group of Washington DC area workers - many of them government employees - got together and engaged in a conversation. They held a collective vision for revolutionizing the way they received health care. They wanted preventive, pre-paid, quality health care provided in a racially integrated environment.
Those workers turned their words into actions. They created a new organization, formed a board of directors, and began realizing their vision for a group health system. They created the nonprofit Group Health Association (GHA) in 1937, becoming one of the nation’s first health maintenance organizations, eventually providing healthcare for tens of thousands of residents in the Washington, DC area. Workers paid a flat fee every month for health care that covered themselves and their families.
In time, the workers butted heads with the mightiest group of health care providers in the country. The American Medical Association mounted a monumental challenge to the fledgling health care system. The challenge was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The workers held to their vision and, in the end, won the battle.
Almost 60 years later, however, GHA’s new generation of leaders confronted an even more daunting challenge - escalating health care costs. They eventually lost that battle and were forced to disband GHA. But before doing so, they realized a vision of their own, born from the upheaval.
The charter and by-laws of the GHA had always stated that no individual or group should benefit from the sale of the organization. As a last act, GHA’s leaders set up a new philanthropy to give away to the local community the millions of dollars that were gained from the sale of the health care organization. Today, the Consumer Health Foundation uses the profits from the sale of GHA to support others who - on behalf of their communities, their families, their neighbors, and themselves - undertake profound efforts to improve access for all to quality health care.
GHA’s history is archived at the National Library of Medicine (NLM). NLM created electronic aids to facilitate access to the significant collection, which has enduring value to students and scholars of medical history, national health policy, public health, and other related topics.