The Power of Collective Action

Justin Kimball was born in Texas and studied to be an educator. He began his teaching career at rural schools in Louisiana. He then returned to Texas when he became a principal of a school and later a superintendent of schools. His success as an educational leader became well known and he was hired to run the Dallas school system.

One thing that Kimball realized as superintendent of schools was that teachers were always fearful of the loss of income if they became sick. He established a sick benefit program to allay that fear. Teachers would pay $1 per month into a reserve fund. Should they get sick, they could then be able to receive support from their fund. Over 1,000 teachers joined the sick benefit program.

After running the Dallas school system for ten years, Kimball left the system upon the advice of his doctor. Unable to stay idle, Kimball returned to his education roots and gave lectures at a number of universities in Texas.

But it was an opportunity to become the Vice-President of the Baylor University Medical Center, where he set in motion one of the most profound changes in American society. The depression had begun one year earlier when Kimball took the position of Vice President. The hospital was experiencing a tremendous number of unpaid hospital bills that would never be collected.

Recalling the success of the sick benefit program, he established the nation’s first health insurance program. He worked with employers to start a program where employees would pay $.50 per month for insurance coverage should they need to go to the hospital. Within five years, 408 employees signed up for the plan covering over 23,000 members. Eventually smaller plans were created in other states.

What Kimball started was a very for citizens to pool their resources to provide protection for individuals in a time of need. Eventually, this model would spread to other applications (e.g. credit unions, unemployment insurance). The model for Medicare has many of the collective pooling of resources started by Kimball. Kimball was a pioneering hero in showing how the collective actions of citizens can provide protection against unforeseen challenges.

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            “Ultimately the challenges of the 21st Century can’t be met without collective action.” – Barack Obama

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