Today, Hamburg is celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of Germany’s oldest health insurance company – DAK-Gesundheit. Hamburg’s First Mayor Peter Tschentscher has invited people to a reception to celebrate this important social-historical anniversary. The idea of ​​self-managed, solidarity-financed protection against social risks, developed 250 years ago, is still relevant today and is the core of the modern welfare state. Read more in our press release.

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Embargo period 4 June 2024 6.30 p.m.

Hamburg Senate honors 250th anniversary of DAK-Gesundheit

  • First Mayor Peter Tschentscher: DAK has made an important contribution to the creation of the modern welfare state
  • Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach emphasises the important role of DAK-Gesundheit in the care
  • DAK boss Andreas Storm calls for a turning point in health and care

Hamburg celebrated the founding of DAK-Gesundheit 250 years ago with a Senate reception. Germany’s oldest health insurance company was founded in 1774 in Breslau, which was then part of Prussia, as an “Institute for the Best of Commercial Servants in Need”. While the company had 279 members when it was founded, it now has 5.6 million insured people and is the third largest health insurance company in Germany.

Dr. Peter Tschentscher, First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, said in his speech: “In its 250-year history, DAK has made an important contribution to the creation of the modern welfare state. It is one of the largest health insurance companies in Germany. Its development is closely linked to the history of Hamburg, the traditional headquarters of the insurance company and one of the largest locations of the healthcare industry in Europe. I would like to congratulate DAK-Gesundheit and its employees on their 250th anniversary and wish them all the best for the future.”

In a video message, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said: “The fact that people receive the help they need when they are ill – regardless of their own financial situation – is an achievement that we can rightly be proud of. Statutory health insurance is an essential pillar of our solidarity system. As the third largest health insurance company, DAK-Gesundheit has a special role to play in this in several respects: As a so-called ‘provider’, it assumes responsibility for many elderly and sick insured people. On the other hand, its numerous studies and reports provide valuable information about the state of and opportunities for improvement in health care in Germany. I would therefore like to extend my special thanks to the employees of DAK-Gesundheit.”

Andreas Storm, CEO of DAK-Gesundheit, said: “The significance of this anniversary extends far beyond DAK-Gesundheit. Solidarity-based protection against the risks of illness, as developed 250 years ago, is still a core idea and basic principle of the modern welfare state today.” He pointed out that in addition to solidarity-based protection against health risks, the idea of ​​self-administration is still one of the main pillars of the German health care system today. “When the Breslau clerks took their fate into their own hands, they certainly did not know how great their contribution to the development of the modern welfare state would be in historical retrospect. But this idea has proven to be a successful model because it is capable of development and adaptation,” said Storm. The health insurance fund has survived various political systems, dictatorships, wars and crises.

Storm emphasised that the health care system is currently facing major challenges. He cited rising costs due to demographic developments and medical progress as examples. “The fund was founded 250 years ago with the aim of creating social security. In view of the wide range of uncertainties currently in many areas of life, it is essential that those insured can still rely on being well insured in the event of illness or being well cared for in the event of care without being financially overwhelmed,” said Storm. This is also of central importance for the cohesion of society. “As in security policy, there must also be a turning point in health and care,” explained Storm. Both health and long-term care insurance are structurally underfunded. He demanded that the social insurance providers’ tasks for society as a whole should be financed from tax revenue and not from contributions.

One of the important historical roots of DAK-Gesundheit is the health insurance fund of the Hamburg Association for Commercial Commis, founded on July 1, 1862. At the end of 1921, this fund merged with the Leipzig “Central Health and Funeral Fund” to form the health insurance fund of the liberal trade union federation of employees (GDA-Kasse). A little later, in 1924, the Breslau fund joined the GDA fund. It is therefore no coincidence that the fund is still based in Hamburg today. In 1929, the GDA fund changed its name to the German Employees’ Health Insurance Fund.

The budget volume of DAK-Gesundheit, including nursing care insurance, is around 32 billion euros, which is larger than that of twelve of the sixteen federal states. It has around 10,000 employees, of which around 2,000 are in the Hanseatic city.

As part of the Senate reception, a new publication entitled “Solidarity. Social. Sustainable. 250 Years of DAK-Gesundheit” was also presented. The book describes the history of the fund from its founding in the dissolving corporate society of the 18th century to the modern health insurance company in a post-industrial society of the 21st century.

In his foreword, Federal President Hans-Walter Steinmeier explains: “Associations such as the ‘needy commercial servants’, who from 1774 onwards organised themselves into relief funds and sought to protect themselves against the risk of illness, were nothing less than the pioneers of our modern welfare state and our reliable health system.”

DAK-Gesundheit has survived social upheavals, wars and different political systems and has reinvented itself again and again. The publication deals in detail, for example, with the “coordination” during the Nazi era and the attempt to return to the values ​​of the pre-war period when restarting after 1945, while at the same time denazification was only hesitant. The extensive final chapter describes the consequences of the opening of health insurance companies to competition from the mid-1990s onwards. It shows how the health insurance company is facing the challenges of modern medical care and the digitization of the health care system. It provides insights into how DAK-Gesundheit is positioning itself in competition and how it is successfully setting a political agenda. In this respect, this book is not only a social history treatise, but also a current inventory of the situation of statutory health insurance.

For the publication, Bielefeld historian Prof. Hans-Walter Schmuhl revised and extensively supplemented a 1999 publication by authors Hartwig Stein and Volker Böge. It is published by medhochzwei Verlag, which specializes in health care topics.

The book is available in hardcover in bookstores for 39 euros. It is also available as an e-book.

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