In 1946, the State Medical Society of Wisconsin introduced the Wisconsin Plan, which was a low-cost health insurance product created to help World War II veterans. Shortly thereafter, the organization established Wisconsin Physicians Service to market and administer that health plan.
In the almost 75 years since then, WPS has grown into a world-class government contractor and gives back to the communities it serves. This is the story of how WPS changed health insurance in Wisconsin.
The first WPS office was in Milwaukee, Wis. As a division of the State Medical Society, WPS marketed and administered the nonprofit sickness plan out of that office. By January of 1947, the fledgling WPS had paid $89,562 in health benefits. The company stayed in Milwaukee until 1950, when it moved to 740 East Gorham Street in Madison, Wis., on the shore of Lake Mendota.
During the ’50s, WPS innovated. It expanded from physician services to also cover hospital services. Computer equipment was installed for the first time in 1952 to help with claims and statistical functions. The company pioneered reimbursement for health care providers on a Usual, Customary, and Reasonable (UCR) basis. This novel system paid the provider directly rather than reimbursing the person insured. The UCR concept made billing easier and was later implemented by carriers throughout the country.
More offices, more health plans
Then, WPS began to spread across Wisconsin. In 1956, a sales office was opened in Kenosha. In 1957, WPS established its sales force, including its first agency contract. It opened sales offices in Green Bay and Eau Claire. An office in Milwaukee opened in 1962, and a Wausau location followed in 1965.
In the 1960s, WPS developed the Ready Reserve Plan, its first individual health insurance product. It was a major medical plan designed to help cover the expense of a prolonged illness or major surgery. Other new products added during this time included supplemental coverage options for prescription drugs, dental care, vision care, miscellaneous illness, and home care.
WPS cares for seniors
Then, the focus turned to taking care of retired people, who didn’t have health coverage after leaving their jobs. America was moving toward a new program for seniors, but not fast enough for WPS. So, WPS created the Century Plan in 1960 to provide health insurance for customers age 65 and older. The Century Plan covered physician and hospital services plus limited nursing home care.
Five years later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed Medicare into law. Medicare went into effect in 1966, and WPS was right there with its first Medicare supplement insurance plan, Medicare-PLUS.
WPS cares for groups
In 1970, WPS was innovating again. This time, the company introduced a first-of-its-kind health plan for groups. It was a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plan designed to provide customers with prepaid primary care. Called the Health Maintenance Program, or HMP, it became a trendsetter in the industry. By 1974, more than 69,000 people were enrolled in the HMP in 25 counties throughout Wisconsin.
WPS moves and incorporates
In November 1973, WPS moved operations to a new corporate headquarters facility at 1717 W. Broadway in Monona, where it is still located today.
In 1975, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law requiring that service insurance corporations be legally separate from their parent professional societies.1 Accordingly, on April 17, 1977, following the enactment of Chapter 613 of the Wisconsin Statutes, Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corporation, a nonprofit and nonstock service insurance corporation, was incorporated as the successor organization to the old WPS, and commenced business that same day. After 30 years as a division of the State Medical Society, WPS was on its own.
WPS improves health plans
In the ’80s, WPS introduced a new Medicare supplement insurance plan, the WPS Medicare Companion, which built on and improved on the Medicare-PLUS plan. Throughout this decade, WPS experimented with several new subsidiaries. One of them, The EPIC Life Insurance Company, still exists today doing business as EPIC Specialty Benefits. The company also added a couple of new buildings to its main campus, as well as new sales offices in Appleton and La Crosse.
The health insurance business chugged along through the ’90s as WPS grew. WPS began selling the WPS Preferred Advantage Plan, a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) group health plan. WPS continued to innovate by including Value Care Review, a care management program, with its group health products. By the end of 2000, WPS was one of the top 10 health insurers and administrators in Wisconsin.
In 2003, Congress passed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. That law created Medicare Part D, stand-alone prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, which launched in 2006. When Part D was implemented, WPS was ready with its own prescription drug plan (PDP).2 Today, the WPS PDP covers medications for more than 14,000 seniors in Wisconsin.
In October 2006, WPS launched Arise Health Plan, known today as WPS Health Plan. This Green Bay subsidiary offers Health Maintenance Organization and Point-of-Service plans to the group and individual markets in eastern and north-central Wisconsin, plus third-party administrator services.
WPS looks to the future
Today, WPS Health Solutions is a thriving company with several lines of business. WPS Health Insurance and WPS Health Plan continue to provide high-quality health insurance choices for Wisconsinites, while our Medicare supplement plans now extend to select states across the country. WPS continues to be a an innovative company looking ahead with employees focused on one mission:
Together, making health care easier for the people we serve.
Check out more history resources:
1See Chapter 223, Laws of 1975, State of Wisconsin. 2WPS MedicareRx Plan, offered by Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corporation, is a prescription drug plan (PDP) with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in WPS MedicareRx Plan depends on contract renewal.
This is an advertisement for insurance. Neither Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corporation, nor its agents, nor products are connected with the federal Medicare program.
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