9 Fun Facts About the Senior Insurance Companies You Love

9 Fun Facts About the Senior Insurance Companies You Love

Every Medicare and senior market insurance company has a story, and some of them are pretty fascinating! 

Did you know Aetna is named after an Italian volcano? That Cigna's history crossed paths with pirates? What about AIG insuring an important scientific expedition to the North Pole?

Here are 9 fun facts about the senior insurance companies our clients know and love.

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1. Aetna is named after an Italian volcano.

Originally founded in 1853 as a life insurance company, Aetna was named after Mount Etna!

Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Italy. In the mid-1800s, it was the most active volcano in Europe at the time. Mount Etna has a basal circumference of 87 miles, which makes it the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy. It’s about two and a half times the height of Mount Vesuvius, the next largest Italian volcano.

Mt Etna

Today, Mount Etna is still one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and it’s in a nearly constant state of activity. The latest eruption at the end of 2019 spewed ash into the air and caused an earthquake that damaged buildings and injured four people.

Etna is derived from Greek, meaning “I burn.” In Latin, it’s also called Aetna.

Mount Etna is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and many say that the name choice ended up being a foreshadowing of the company’s eventual financial success.

Related Reading: Aetna Medicare Supplement Review

2. Cigna started out insuring ship cargo.

Today, we know and love Cigna as a fantastic Medicare Supplement carrier with additional options like Medicare Advantage and Part D drug plans.

However, back in 1792, Cigna started out as the first marine insurance company in the United States. At that time, it was the Insurance Company of North America (INA). 

INA issued its first marine policies for the ship America. The policy insured its hull and cargo on a voyage from Philadelphia to Northern Ireland.

A drawing of ship America circa 1799

Two years later, the company’s first life insurance policy issued to a sea captain who wanted to insure against death during a voyage. The policy even included a clause promising benefits if pirates captured the captain.

Good times!

Related Reading: Cigna Medigap Review

3. Blue Cross Blue Shield started with the Baylor Plan, which was 50 cents per month at the time.

In 1929, Blue Cross Blue Shield began with something called the Baylor Plan. Baylor University hospital administrators were trying to figure out how to make hospital stays more affordable for their patients.

They came up with a plan for patients to prepay 50 cents per month for up to 21 days of hospitalization per year. The plan was an instant hit!

Aerial view of Baylor University circa the 1920s

Today, Blue Cross Blue Shield serves over 100 million members. Although coverage does cost quite a bit more now than it did then.

Related Reading: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Medicare Supplement Review

4. Mutual of Omaha insured working women during WWI.

In the 1910s, women were treated much differently than men. However, in 1917, just two years before the 19th amendment was passed by Congress, Mutual extended health and accident insurance to women.

At that time, women were flooding the workplace to fill in the vacancies left behind by men who left to fight in World War I. New jobs such as creating weapons, guarding railways, and working in factories were created as part of the war effort.

Women workers in a new gun factory during WWI

At this time, there was a lot of resistance to hiring women for what was seen as men’s work. However, as the war progressed, the need for women workers became quite urgent. The government even started advertising campaigns and recruitment drives to coordinate the employment of women.

Related Reading: Mutual of Omaha Medicare Supplement Review

5. KSKJ Life was formed to protect Slovenian immigrants who worked in dangerous steel mills.

KSKJ Life, a not-for-profit fraternal organization that offers some of our favorite life insurance options, has quite a rich history.

The formal union, KSKJ, was born out of the Industrial Revolution in 1894. The company was formed to protect Slovenian immigrant families who worked in dangerous steel mills. KSKJ Life was helping these families at a time when life insurance and other financial products weren’t easy to get.

Example of a steel mill

About 15 years later, KSKJ Life had grown from just 333 members to over 10,000. They moved headquarters to Joliet, IL, and the rest is history!

6. AIG insured the 1954 scientific expedition to the North Magnetic Pole.

Sailing the Arctic in a wooden boat is a pretty daring task, but Daniel Linehan, founder of Boston College’s graduate program in geophysics, did it anyways.

Five days before the departure, Linehan gathered up the research equipment he needed to locate the North Magnetic Pole. One such item included a state-of-the-art earth inductor that had cost $500,000 in 1954 dollars, or nearly $5 million today.

Photo credit: Gary W. Gilbert, more photos from the journey are available in Boston College's archives

The voyage there – and back – was quite terrifying, with the Monte Carlo even heading into a hurricane at one point. Good thing AIG agreed to provide insurance coverage for the expedition. The 11-person crew faced many challenges on their way to the top of the world, but at least they had financial peace of mind.

7. Sentinel Security Life was formed by passionate Utah funeral directors.

In 1948, Sentinel Security Life, one of our favorite final expense carriers, was actually founded by funeral directors!

Sentinel Mutual Insurance Company circa 1948

This group of passionate Utah natives saw many families in need of a way to cover funeral costs. To help, the group created Sentinel Mutual Insurance Company.

This allowed families to have an affordable life insurance policy designed to pay for the final expenses of a loved one. Today, the company offers more than just final expense insurance, but it’s nice to know that the roots of a company match their product offerings!

8. Thrivent Financial is a not-for-profit on the Fortune 500 list.

Thrivent Financial, a popular Medicare Supplement carrier, is a company for Christians based in Minneapolis.

Thrivent has been on the Fortune 500 list for 25 years and is currently ranked at 351. Thrivent is called a fraternal benefit society, which is a not-for-profit that provides insurance to its members, and by definition, it must carry out social, intellectual, educational, charitable, benevolent, moral, fraternal, patriotic or religious purposes for the benefit of its members and the public.

In short, Thrivent sells insurance and does charitable work. 

Today, Thrivent serves over 2 million members and as of 2013, the organization contributed $182.7 million to organizations that aim to strengthen families and communities.

In June 2013, members voted to allow non-Lutheran Christians to join, and in March 2014, the company name was shortened from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to Thrivent Financial.

9. Great Southern Life became the first company to insure children.

Great Southern Life, founded in 1909, has a rich history full of successful acquisitions, including Americo Financial Life, College Life, and Ohio State Life.

Back in 1922, Great Southern Life (GSL) became the first company in America to insure the lives of children.

Children in the 1920s

That wasn’t the only innovative thing this family of companies did, either! In 1971, they were the first to advance death benefit payments to sustain the life of a policyholder.

This paved the way for the many options available today that allow you to pull money from your life insurance policy while you’re still living.

Finally, in 1981, GSL became one of the first American companies to offer universal life insurance. Today, GSL is one of our absolute favorite Medicare Supplement companies, and they continue to innovate to make a better insurance landscape for us all!

Which Company Do You Have?

At Sams/Hockaday, we represent dozens of incredible senior insurance companies. We hope this article sheds some light on some of their rich histories.

Which company do you have? Let us know in the comments below!

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Disclaimer: We do not offer every plan available in your area. Currently we represent 4 organizations which offer 41 products in your area. Please contact, 1‑800‑MEDICARE, or your local State Health Insurance Program to get information on all of your options.