Sympany: tradition and innovation

The history of Sympany and its predecessor ÖKK, founded in Basel 100 years ago, has been an eventful one, marked by change, dynamism and challenges, by tradition and by innovation.

Thanks to the loyalty of the people of Basel and policyholders, it is also a story of success: what once was the public health insurance provider for Basel is now a private national insurance company.

Milestones

Sympany's predecessor, Öffentliche Krankenkasse (ÖKK) Basel, was founded on 1 October 1914. Health insurance was compulsory for people with low incomes and voluntary for all other Basel residents. Initiated more than 80 years before health insurance became compulsory in Switzerland, this was a pioneering sociopolitical scheme.

Already by the end of the 1920s, 95,000 Basel inhabitants had insurance and by 1935, this applied to 70 percent of Basel's population.

ÖKK Basel, as it was then, began to suffer losses from 1931 due to excessive use and the social orientation and they underwent several necessary restructuring measures, up until the 1940s, including increasing the deductible.

In 1937, the company moved to its new office building and advisory centre in Fischmarkt, Basel.

In 1942, the first systematic analysis of medical data was published throughout Switzerland in the Basler Krankenstatistik, which included evidence from 650,000 policyholders.

In 1944, ÖKK Basel separated from the cantonal administration and became an independent cantonal institution established under public law as its own legal entity.

In 1946, the insurance company bought a recuperation centre in Diemtigtal and introduced insurance for tuberculosis treatment.

The 1950s and 60s were shaped by various disputes between the health insurance company and doctors over rates.

In the 1960s, the company extended its operations to the whole of north-west Switzerland.

In the 1970s, the Canton of Basel-Stadt reduced the amount it was subsidising and, due to sharp increases in premiums, many policyholders switched to competing private health insurance companies.

In 1981, a non-partisan committee launched the "For a safe and social ÖKK" initiative, which wanted to continue to be able to provide insurance. However, the Basel-Stadt Cantonal Council proposed the so-called "multi-merger bill", which would liquidate ÖKK Basel and buy the policyholders into several private insurance companies.

In 1984, by a small margin, the multi-merger bill was rejected and the popular initiative accepted.

As a result of the vote, a law was passed in 1991 which allowed the company to operate more flexibly in the market and gain new policyholders with innovative, more attractive products. In addition to this, the law ensured a separate cantonal, time-limited subsidy for the unfavourable risk structure based on the company's history.

In 1991, the first types of insurance for cost-saving were introduced. The establishment of an HMO health plan in Basel was a pioneering achievement. It was one of the first managed care organisations in Switzerland and it paved the way for this approach to treatment.

The Federal Law on Sickness Insurance (KVG) reform introduced mandatory insurance for the whole of Switzerland in 1996. This brought with it the freedom of choice for policyholders, non-age-dependent premiums and risk compensation among policyholders.

Until 2002, ÖKK Basel increased its number of basic insurance policyholders as well as supplementary insurance policyholders and improved its risk structure.

In 2005, ÖKK Basel launched its subsidiary company, ÖKK Schweiz.

In the years that followed, there were still only two ÖKK organisations in Switzerland: ÖKK Basel and ÖKK Graubünden. These were two independent companies, which maintained a shared market presence and collaborated to offer supplementary insurance, amongst other policies.

In 2006, Krankenkasse 57 was incorporated into ÖKK Basel.

In 2007, ÖKK Basel and ÖKK Graubünden demerged. ÖKK Graubünden retained its name and ÖKK Basel decided to appear under the new name Sympany.

Sympany began operations in early 2008. After the Basel Cantonal Parliament approved ÖKK's becoming a non-profit public limited company and its merger with the Sympany Foundation, the company relaunched under its new name as an independent company established under private law.

In 2009, Sympany began offering property insurance. In addition to traditional health insurance, Sympany also offers its own motor vehicle insurance, household contents insurance, buildings insurance and personal liability insurance. This is how Sympany became Switzerland's only all-round insurance company and one-stop, independent provider of all everyday insurance types.

Similarly, in 2009, Krankenversicherung Xundheit, formerly ÖKK Luzern, merged with Sympany and was integrated.

In 2010, Sympany moved to its new head office in Jacob Burckhardt Haus at Basel railway station.

In 2012, the new hospital funding came into effect, which made hospital charges comparable and costs more transparent and in turn increased competition. Sympany was the first health insurance company to reduce supplementary hospital insurance premiums by 20% in anticipation of lower medical costs.

In 2013, Sympany paid back surpluses from supplementary insurance to its policyholders for the first time.

In 2014, Sympany celebrated its 100-year anniversary.

Another pioneering act followed in 2016 when Sympany became the first insurance company in Switzerland to return surpluses to basic insurance customers as well as supplementary insurance ones.

2016 was also the year that Sympany acquired Kolping Krankenkasse AG.

In early 2019, Sympany is opening a modern advisory centre at its head office in Basel. This replaces the advisory centre in Fischmarkt.

100 years of Sympany

In 2014, Sympany celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The anniversary publication highlights some of the stages in the eventful history of ÖKK Basel and Sympany: from its foundation 100 years ago and the tumultuous years that followed, to the political shifts, the birth of Managed Care, the emergence of Sympany and the development of the brand in recent years.

100 Jahre Vertrauen – 100 Jahre Sympany (in German) (PDF, 790 KB)