When we are sick, we go to the doctor. In Germany, our health insurance provider covers the cost of treatment. Health insurance is mandatory for everyone here. But that was not always the case.
Social security insurance, including health insurance, was not introduced in Germany until the 1880s. The workforce, whose ranks were growing rapidly as a result of industrialization, was fully exposed to social hardship in the event of illness or invalidity. To stop the rise of social democratic and socialist movements that were looking to improve laborers’ working and living conditions, the German Empire introduced health insurance in 1883. Back then, the new insurance plan was based on the principle of solidarity — as it is to this day. Everyone pays into the system in line with their incomes and receives free basic medical care in the event of illness. Today, employers also pay a substantial share of an employee’s health insurance contribution.
There were already a few health insurance schemes in Germany even before the law of 1883, mainly at large factories. But they only insured the workers at that particular factory. At Bosch, the idea of a company health insurance fund for associates in Germany did not gain any serious consideration until the 1950s. Associates were called upon to vote whether or not to introduce a Bosch company health insurance fund. The run-up to the vote saw heated debate for and against the concept. The advantages of having a separate health insurance fund that would cover only Bosch associates and their families, as opposed to a local public health insurance fund that was open to everybody, were obvious: higher incomes and lower rates of illness by comparison. The result would be either lower contributions or more benefits for those insured. However, the concept was anathema to the principle of solidarity behind health insurance. In an insurance plan for everyone, the young pay for the old, the healthy pay for the sick, and those with higher incomes pay for those who earn less. After all, one person could always end up in another person’s position.
The outcome of the referendum on February 15, 1952, was also close, with 56.4 percent of Bosch associates deciding in favor of a Bosch company health insurance fund. With 12,668 members, the new insurance scheme was launched on July 1, 1953. What started as a basic insurance plan covering illness has grown over the past six and a half decades to become a modern health insurance provider with a focus on health promotion, outstanding service, and support in dealing with all care-related issues. Today’s benefits include bonus programs and optional extended plans. This growth is also evidenced in the development of membership numbers. When Bosch BKK turned 25 in 1972, it had some 25,500 members. By 2002, that number had already risen to around 120,000. Today, Bosch BKK serves 227,000 insured persons.
As a historian, I have been working in historical communications at Bosch for over 20 years. I have been responsible for historical print media for the same length of time and am now also part of the online editorial team. In addition, I am the contact person for questions regarding the history of Bosch in the Americas, on the Iberian Peninsula and in the U.K. — for the latter, I am particularly happy, because I lived there for three years.