In 1934, a small blue Greek cross appeared for the first time on an advertising poster, sponsored by the founder of the Minnesota Hospital Service Association, E. A. van Steenwyk, to promote the merits of his hospital care program -- at 75¢ per month. A movement was soon formed, with new associations being created in other regions and carrying the same unifying symbol, which members would commonly call “The Blue Cross Plan.”
In Québec, as elsewhere in North America, the 1940s were the aftermath to the Great Depression: many citizens, struggling to make ends meet, could not afford proper medical care. No state structure was in place to guarantee services to the public. Hospitals were nonetheless required to take care of the injured and ill, who themselves were rarely able to pay for their hospital fees. This lack of financial resources threatened the viability of hospital services. Where would the required funds be found?
To ensure continued services to the public and the development of health services, a group of hospital directors and business people founded in 1942 the Québec Hospital Service Association. The goal was to finance hospitals by providing workers with access to health services at a reasonable cost and through an advanced payment plan. The approach was met with great success. The “Blue Cross Plan” filled a need that was as essential as the times were hard.
Now able to cover their costs, hospitals increased their services according to the needs of their clients and the development of medicine. This was the start of a long collaboration between the Québec Hospital Service Association and the hospitals that would become today’s university health centres. The Association, better known as Blue Cross, thus laid the groundwork for the hospital insurance that would be taken over by the state in 1961 and the public health insurance system that started in 1969 and is administered by the government.
The implementation of a public health system and the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec naturally led Blue Cross to change its insurance plans to complement the public coverage. Blue Cross’s private health insurance plans have thus provided thousands of citizens with access to quality complementary health services, in addition to ensuring a degree of financial security.
In response to Quebecers’ growing interest in travel, Blue Cross launched its first travel insurance plan in 1977 to cover the costs of medical emergencies abroad. In 1989, it founded its own assistance company, CanAssistance, to help its insured members in times of emergency. To intervene rapidly and efficiently, wherever its members were travelling, CanAssistance established direct service agreements to cover the planet with various international assistance networks. The partnerships have successfully passed the test of time and earned Blue Cross and CanAssistance worldwide renown.
For 30 years now, the Québec Hospital Service Association – now called the Canassurance Hospital Service Association – has been expanding its service offer. Blue Cross insurance products go well beyond a simple complement to the public system: Blue Cross provides health programs that anticipate needs and include exclusive daily assistance services. Blue Cross’s travel insurance coverage, for its part, offers various guarantees to insure not only the health of travellers but also the amounts they invest and other risks inherent in travel outside Québec.
The sole purpose of Blue Cross insurance products has always been the security of our insured members. In Canada, we’re fortunate to have access to universal, free health services. However, due to hospital funding problems, Quebecers are having to assume part of the cost of health services. Essential services remain available, but less accessible due to a lack of resources and waiting lists.
By giving access to many services in private clinics, Blue Cross health insurance is helping relieve the pressure on the network of public hospitals. And by offering protection for services not covered by the public system – which doesn’t have the means to cover them now, nor will in the future – Blue Cross is helping protect the future of a public health system that none of us want to lose.