Kaiser Permanente: Its Past, Present, and Future

Medical Economics, January 23, 1995 | Go to article overview

Kaiser Permanente: Its Past, Present, and Future


The seeds that would eventually sprout into the Kaiser Permanente behemoth of today were sown in the arid southern California desert in 1933 by a young Los Angeles surgeon named Sidney R. Garfield. Garfield established a prepaid group practice (with monthly member dues set at $1.50) to provide care to workers building the Los Angeles aqueduct (see photo below).(Photo omitted)

Five years later, industrialist Henry J. Kaiser won a contract to finish the Grand Coulee Dam in eastern Washington. Kaiser's son, Edgar, was familiar with Garfield's aqueduct experience and persuaded him to set up a similar program for dam workers. During World War II, the Kaisers managed shipyards in the San Francisco Bay area and Vancouver, Wash., as well as a steel mill in Fontana in southern California. Garfield and his physician groups followed, and at one point cared for about 200,000 workers and their dependents.

After the war, the organization was opened to the community, and initial membership totaled 25,000. The Southern California program expanded to Los Angeles in 1950, and by 1952 membership surpassed 250,000. In 1955, Kaiser Permanente created three formal regions, Northern California, Southern California, and the Northwest; it added a fourth (Hawaii) in 1958. By 1963, it hit the 1 million-member mark.

Since then, the system has expanded in spurts: to Ohio and Colorado in 1969, Texas, Mid-Atlantic states, and the Northeast during 1979-82, and North Carolina, Georgia, and Kansas City in 1985. …

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